I hope this isn’t…too…slow…for…you

Behind on the digital curve

Behind on the digital curve

UFOs were reported over western Nevada County last Friday, but instead of black helicopters or aliens from outer space, they were probably high altitude balloons launched by Google.

The balloons are part of Project Loon, a worldwide launch of white transparent balloons to create a network of Internet receptors in the stratosphere. Ground-based users will be able to connect to the balloon network with a special Internet antenna.

But if Project Loon is like every other high-speed Internet service that’s been rolled out in the last 20 years, it won’t be coming to Nevada County anytime soon. Every new development puts us further behind on the digital curve, making it more difficult for Nevada County to remain economically viable.

While the Central Valley Next-Generation Broadband Infrastructure Project works on installing 44 miles of fiber optic cable in these parts, the race for greater speed leaves us in the dust.  Time Warner Cable will soon be offering speeds up to 100 Mbps in Los Angeles, while Verizon’s FIOS service is gunning for 150 Mbps.

Then there’s AT&T and Google, who are racing to offer one gigabit per second of service in Austin, Texas. The competition to provide the best high-speed Internet service is heating up as it becomes more important to each company’s financial results.

AT&T says the Austin upgrade is the blue print of its future service, a process that makes economic sense because the carrier is targeting the most promising areas. That means we won’t be seeing anything approaching that speed. If AT&T had its way, it would dump the landline service it is forced to provide us now.

All of this means that the clean, high tech jobs that could give a turbocharge to Nevada County’s economy, and provide reasons for our children to stay here, won’t be coming our way any time soon.

“High-speed Internet is essentially like having running water to many businesses,” Robert Trent told The Union when he was still running the Economic Resource Council. “Getting more access to broadband in Nevada County is an essential component to business growth and economic growth.”

So what are we going to do? How about something radical (at least for this area) that has been successful in other parts of the country?

Nevada County needs to create its own public utility with the specific task of bringing high speed communications to the county. Startup costs could be funded by a bond issue that would be retired with profits generated by the utility. And instead of spending a lot of time and money trying to acquire rights-of-way, they could make a deal to place their equipment on NID land. That would create a new revenue stream for NID and help keep its rates low.

I know this wouldn’t be as simple as I make it sound, but it’s worth a serious discussion and possible action. The alternative is to cede the future to others.

Two supervisors seats will be up for election next year, and those races would be good opportunities to start the discussion. Certainly, we don’t need more campaign homilies about being good stewards of the public’s money.

Nevada County needs leaders, not auditors.

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