Broadband projects move forward with Nevada County funding
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved $500,000 of funding to leverage $3.85 million in private dollars on behalf of four last-mile broadband projects.
Sierra Business Council Project Manager Kari Sinoff said the county money will facilitate around 440 connections through grants awarded to Nevada County Fiber, Inc.; Northern Sierra Broadband; and Spiral Fiber, Inc., all in western county; and Oasis Broadband, in eastern county.
The timeline for all the projects is 12 to 18 months.
“Most of the projects actually require under 12 months,” Sinoff said. “We want to under-promise, over-deliver to residents in this area. They’ve waited a long time for the service, so we want to let them know it will be installed when it will be installed.”
Sinoff said her team required grant applicants to match the county’s contribution and for their maximum request to remain under $250,000. Potential grantees were prioritized in part based off their plan’s scalability.
Nevada County Fiber, Inc. will provide 22 fiber-to-home connections in the community of Oak Ridge and the Bear Claw Court neighborhood near Deer Creek Park. With $113,000 in grant dollars, of the project’s total cost of $289,608, the cost per individual connection is $5,134. Sinoff said there is possibility for the corporation to become community owned.
With $120,000 from the county, Northern Sierra Broadband will provide 35 fiber-to-home connections in the Buck Mountain-Oak-Arianna Fiber Optic Network Project near Cherry Creek Acres. With the total project cost of $245,000, the cost per connection to the county is $3,429.
Sinoff said Northern Sierra Broadband is categorized as a 501(c)(12), or federal utility nonprofit, as well as a 501(c)(3).
“This status maintains that it will always remain a nonprofit — a public organization,” Sinoff explained. “If it changes hands it cannot be sold for for-profit business.”
Sinoff said recipients of the connection can expect a minimum broadband speed of 100 megabytes per second, with a hope to increase the speed of connection to one gigabyte per second.
Spiral Fiber, to which the county has agreed to grant $205,000, will provide 304 fiber-to-home connections, a $675 per connection cost to the county. Sinoff said the grant only makes up 7% of the project’s total cost — $3 million — which leverages a vast middle mile, federally funded over a decade ago by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Oasis Broadband is the one grantee that will serve east county. With $62,000 from the county, Devin Kock, Oasis Broadband’s founder and CEO, will provide 82 home connections along Dog Valley Road, Russell Valley and Klondike Flats. With the total cost of the project estimated at $124,000, the cost-per-connection to the county is $756.
Sinoff said the project relies on one approved by the county last week that built out connections along Prosser Dam Road. That project includes the construction of an 80-foot tower on private property, but generally Kock tries to use existing structures like trees or water towers to offer internet access.
Ed Hilton, director of technology services at Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, said Oasis Broadband will offer some homes in his district the access that is “integral to a comprehensive education.”
Gil Mathew, executive director for the Nevada County Economic Resource Council, said he believes the grant will help with the county’s goals of economic development and community resiliency by facilitating economic diversification amid the economic shock of COVID-19, families accessing tele-medicine and students using distance learning.
Monaghan said the four approved projects address one of the last missing pieces in providing local broadband access — the “last mile” — while leveraging private money and pre-existing broadband connections.
The last-mile grant program helps facilitate a broadband connection in the face of expensive cost of construction, particularly in a rural community with varied topology.
“We’re really trying to be a catalyst and facilitator with local providers to getting over the barrier,” Monaghan said, adding that two existing projects approved by the county last year are “moving forward successfully right now.”
Supervisor Heidi Hall said the Spiral Project will not provide her home with broadband access as previously hoped, but she is grateful to take a step toward more equitable broadband access.
Hall said ensuring the grantees are open access and have affordable options for low-income families sets the county up to be able to receive more connectivity grants from the California Advanced Services Fund, as well as the federal government.
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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