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Recently I was in a several meetings to discuss telecommunications on the North Coast. We were discussing slow progress and projects that might be coming up. In the process of discussing the future, we had to remind everyone that telecommunications progress in Humboldt County in the past 10-12 years has been huge. We just don’t stop to think about how far we’ve come when we know how far we still need to go. So let’s review some of the highlights…

Late 1990s

I moved to Eureka in 2000, but I certainly have heard stories about the late 1990s and having a single microwave connection to the outside world with difficulty at times making phone long distance calls. Pacific Bell installed a second microwave during this period to alleviate the situation. DSL was provided in a very limited area in Eureka and Arcata.

2000-2002

Cox Communications (now Suddenlink) started providing cable modem service in a limited area. They were at capacity and couldn’t add new subscribers without adequate bandwidth to backhaul their traffic out of the area. I published the North Coast Bandwidth Study (www.neratech.net/projects.html), funded by a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Rural E-Commerce grant. During this time, Pacific Bell, started a fiber optic route from the Bay Area to Eureka. Construction was halted over a dispute over fees to access 22 miles of Caltrans right-of-way in Southern Humboldt County.

2003

This year saw much activism centered around the fiber impasse between Pacific Bell (which morphed into SBC, then later AT&T). Pacific Bell sued Caltrans. Redwood Region Economic Development Commissions (RREDC – www.rredc.com) and Redwood Technology Consortium (RTC – www.redwoodtech.org) filed formal complaint at CPUC against Caltrans, which was later rejected. The Corporation for Network Initiatives in California (CENIC – www.cenic.org) became fully involved because they provide Internet access to K-12 and higher education communities, and they couldn’t purchase the bandwidth they needed to service Humboldt and Del Norte counties’ educational institutions.

During 2003, local groups encouraged Pacific Bell to put money in escrow rather than waiting years for litigation to run its course. The Gartner Group and CENIC published a report highlighting Northwest California telecom issues (www.cenic.org/publications/archives/glossies/Gartner_Full.pdf). CENIC then commissioned SAIC to do a study on building an alternative network rather than waiting for Caltrans and SBC to duke it out in court. This report (http://www.cenic.org/publications/archives/glossies/nwcenicstudy.pdf) appeared to break the impasse and SBC put money into escrow so they could build the final 22 miles of fiber. In September 2003, the fiber was completed. SBC and Cox expanded their services in the County due to the additional bandwidth on the new fiber optic line.

2004

Garberville, Redway, and Benbow got cable modem broadband from Starstream (now Wave Broadband). CENIC gave an award to RTC for community activism to end the Caltrans/SBC fiber impasse. When the fiber optic line was completed, RTC and RREDC immediately started to advocate for fiber optic redundancy, or an alternate path.

2005

The county commissioned a study called Living in a Networked World (http://www.neratech.net/docs/final_report.pdf). This project entailed looking at supply and demand around the county, holding five community meetings. This year saw the final RTC Tech Expo and first Broadband Forum put on by RTC, RREDC, and Redwood Coast Rural Action (RCRA).

2006

This was a busy year. Frontier provided DSL in their territory: Ferndale and Petrolia. Willow Creek got cable modem service in a small area in center of town. The County commissioned a study in conjunction with RCRA, RREDC, and RTC on providing an alternative fiber optic line (www.neratech.net/docs/final-report-firstmile.pdf). A Garberville wireless broadband company, 101Netlink (www.101Netlink.com) began to provide wireless service to a wide area in the County and microwave backhaul out of the area. Access Humboldt Community Media Center is formed. Rollin Richmond and Peter Pennekamp appointed to Governor’s Broadband Task Force, the only rural participants of the 22-member Task Force.

2006-2007

This time period saw four fiber outages (wind, fire, backhoe, backhoe), underscoring the continuing need for an alternate fiber optic route. Read about how outages affect us at: www.neratech.net/docs/Blackout.pdf. Suddenlink begins to offer phone service. Wharfinger building now has free Wi-Fi. Redwood Coast Connect project (http://redwoodcoastconnect.humboldt.edu/) begins.

2008

AT&T provides DSL service in Miranda. Legislation (SB1191) passes allowing Community Service Districts to provide broadband services to unserved communities. SB1191 came out of the Governor’s Broadband Task Force. As part of Redwood Coast Connect, a telecom element is written for the County General Plan Update http://co.humboldt.ca.us/gpu/docs/HearingDraft/Part2Chapter6PlanningCommissionHearingDraft-11-20-08.pdf).

2009

Redwood Coast Connect was completed, including interactive maps. 101Netlink wireless broadband coverage greatly expanded north to Eel River Valley, Eureka, and Arcata, as well as south into Mendocino County. The California Public Utilities Commission awards grants to IP Networks and Broadband Associates to subsidize 40% of the constructions costs of two separate projects to build east-west fiber optic links into the County. Frontier expanded DSL to almost all its customers in Ferndale, Honeydew, and Petrolia.

2010 (so far)

Recently the Headwaters Fund approved a grant to the City of Eureka HW to submit an ARRA proposal for bringing broadband to the Highway 96 corridor. Some broadband implementation activity has slowed down due to economic downturn. On the horizon, it looks like the Highway 36 fiber optic build on PG&E towers is nearing reality. I hope other projects come to fruition as well. ARRA funding might be on the horizon as well.

In conclusion, this is by no means a comprehensive list of telecommunications activities, but it shows slow and steady progress. Check out the aforementioned organizations’ web sites for more information. If you are interested in technology, you should check out the RTC to find like-minded folks.

Tina Nerat is a member of the Redwood Technology Consortium (www.redwoodtech.org). She and her husband, Mike Nerat, own NERATECH (www.neratech.net), a technology consulting business. She can be contacted at tina@neratech.net.

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