News Column

Consortium forms to push for faster Internet access

August 27, 2014

By Carol Lawrence, Ventura County Star, Calif.

Aug. 27--High-speed Internet access anytime, anywhere is something most everyone wants and needs more of in the Tri-County area, because there just doesn't seem to be enough of it.

The Broadband Consortium Pacific Coast formed in early July to change that by finding ways to motivate broadband providers to lay more fiber optics across Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

The new coalition involves more than 70 entities across the three counties. Locally, it includes several chambers of commerce and city governments, the Ventura County Sheriff's Office, the Ventura County Economic Development Collaborative, the Ventura County Office of Education, CSU Channel Islands, the county government, the Ventura County Lodging Association and several businesses including some telecommunications providers.

"It's important to the community and to the county, and key to its overall prosperity, said Mike Pettit, chief information officer for Ventura County, who shares the role of consortium co-chairman with EDC's President and CEO Bruce Stenslie.

Businesses need fast Internet access for video teleconferencing; hotels for tech-equipped guests; government agencies for communications and law enforcement for communicating during emergencies, Pettit and Stenslie say. Schools need it as testing is increasingly shifting online. Also, more college classes are taught online, Pettit said, which can be cheaper for students than attending classes.

Health care also has more need for broadband, as doctor and patients do more virtual visits, Pettit added. Some health care entities have joined the consortium, but he would like to get more involved.

The consortium is one of about 14 similar groups that have formed under the state Public Utilities Commission, starting about three years ago, Stenslie said.

The Commission is funding the consortium under the Rural and Urban Regional Broadband Consortia Account grant program with $150,000 annually for the next two years.

Stenslie, whose agency is tasked with managing the grant, said the money will go to planning how to get broadband providers to install fiber optic cables for greater and faster service in areas that are lacking. It also aims to get boosts in coverage to levels deemed adequate by the utility commission.

"We've seen that issue -- we have talked to businesses that have told us that if they don't have better broadband connection at a reasonable speed and at a reasonable price, they will move to areas that have it," Stenslie said.

If you've ever experienced signal breakup or significant delay while downloading or uploading movies videos to your personal computer, laptop or mobile device, you've experienced an insufficient connection.

A sufficient connection, according to the commission, delivers 6 megabytes per second for downloading and 1.5 megabytes per second for uploading. Stenslie said businesses complain that is too low.

Gaps in wired coverage exist in the Oxnard Plain from CSU Channel Islands to Oxnard and Port Hueneme, Stenslie said. A second area is down Highway 126, the Santa Clara River Valley and back country areas such as Lockwood Valley -- areas of lower population.

The consortium will not likely be able to influence the broadband providers to lay more cable, Stenslie said, as they make their infrastructure investments based on market conditions and other issues.

But the consortium will be researching funding sources to lessen those infrastructure costs, Stenslie said, and to identify gaps in wired coverage.

Additionally, the consortium is hoping to help speed up permit applications so infrastructure can be installed faster. It will also work to improve communications between all interested parties.

"There are some goals to increase the adoption of broadband," Pettit said, "but it's not just an issue of availability. It's also one of cost and awareness."


(c)2014 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)

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Source: Ventura County Star (CA)

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