By Deb Murphy
Inyo County has developed a plan for the final mile of Digital 395 in the Obsidian Project, but some areas of Mono County, just 400 feet off a trunk line, are still living in the land of the unconnected.
Roland Rock is one of those Hammil Valley residents doomed to drive to Bishop to log on. Lee Vining is another community scratched from a grant funded project; Long Valley, Paradise, Swall Meadows, a whole raft of communities within spitting distance of U.S. 395 are still in various stages of not-really-connected.
Rock’s the guy 400-feet from a trunk line. To make matters worse, assuming he wants to make contact with the world, cell phone service leaves a lot to be desired. “Bishop is a long distance call,” he said. “When it rains we have no phone service.”
Maybe folks who choose to live in rural areas do so to avoid too much contact with the rest of the world. But more and more forms of communications have morphed to an “e-version,” leaving Rock and his neighbors more cut-off than they ever
Race Communications received grant funding to connect residents along Hwy. 6, from Chalfant Valley to Benton, but chose not to include Hammil Valley, according to Mono County Supervisor Fred Stump.
The grant funding administered by the California Public Utility Commission originates from the Advanced Services Fund added to state utility bills, said Stump. The federal government also provides grant funding for broadband infrastructure.
The grants provide 70-percent of the cost of the infrastructure to bring high speed Internet service to un- or under-served communities. Lee Vining was knocked off a grant application by the CPUC, because it was under- rather than un-served.
Another grant went to connect Bridgeport and Walker, but not Coleville despite the fact it’s difficult to figure out where Walker stops and Coleville starts.
Robert Wullenjohn, CPUC’s manager of broadband policy and analysis branch, explained a potential hang-up in getting Rock connected. “It’s not how far from the trunk line,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s how far you are from a point of interconnection.”
For those who try to understand new technology in terms of old technology, connecting to a fiberoptic trunk line is nothing like cutting an irrigation line and sticking in a “T.”
The connections, Wullenjohn said, is done at spaced-out vaults along the line.
“Our goal is to serve everyone,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of California’s population lives in 5-percent of the state.”
Providers are going after the low-hanging fruit. The 5-percent living in 95-percent of California are pretty high up in the tree.
These pockets of unconnected Mono County are a source of frustration for Stump. While there are a number of options, cheaper than fiberoptics according to Wullenjohn, including wireless signals, the bottom line is finding a provider willing to buy a chunk of space on the super highway, connect to the end user and sell the service. It’s what they call a failure in the economy of scale where there is little scale.
Mono County leased the old Chalfant landfill as the site for a tower for wireless, but no provider has stepped up.
The homeowners in Devil’s Gate Summit near Bridgeport formed their own non-profit consortium to buy space on the broadband at wholesale. “Those citizens were very motivated,” Stump said. “It works, they have service, but it’s expensive.”
Stump is critical of major providers like Verizon and AT&T for failing to upgrade services in Mono County. Steps to upgrade infrastructure have not been taken, leaving parts of the county in the lasat century.
“The County continues to advocate for full inclusion in future grants,” he said. “We’ve got the trunk line there, we just need somebody to use it.”