High-speed Internet capabilities and increased regional bandwidth is making its way to Inyo County and bringing with it the promise of immediate economic opportunities for local contractors and future long-term possibilities for residents and businesses.
The California Broadband Cooperative, through Praxis, Inc., is using the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act federal stimulus package to lay more than 500 miles of fiber-optic conduit from Barstow to Carson City, creating a looped system that will increase Internet speeds and capabilities and prevent outages along its route.
Currently, according to the CBC, much of the region between Carson City and Barstow has limited, insufficient broadband capabilities, dependent on decades-old telephone infrastructure. The out-of-date technology leaves wide swaths of the Eastern Sierra region of California and Nevada under- or unserved.
The Digital 395 Middle Mile project is building a new 583-mile, fiber network that mainly follows the U.S. 395 corridor. The project’s service area encompasses 36 communities, six Indian reservations and two military bases.
Unused, high-capacity fiber-optic cables will be available to the region’s last mile providers to expand or enhance service to households and businesses, as well as to government agencies.
Praxis, which is responsible for the physical placement of the fiber-optic line, has crews working now on the southern and northern reaches of the project, with plans for them to meet in the middle for completion.
Praxis is planning to begin its first phase of construction in Inyo County beginning in December.
The first Inyo County project will be a 7.8-mile segment from Casa Diablo Road on the Mono County Line to the intersection of Jean Blanc Road and U.S. 6 near Laws (a section of cable will run from Bishop to Benton).
That segment is scheduled to be completed in January.
Praxis plans to begin projects in Olancha, Lone Pine, Independence and Big Pine in January.
South of Inyo, construction crews are working to lay conduit in the Red Mountain area of San Bernardino County.
“We should be lighting up in June of next year and by July 31 next year we will be wrapping up,” Praxis Communications Director Diana Garrett said.
Anyone who is interested in checking the progress on the Digital 395 construction can check its website, digital395.com, or view a map with section-specific information at digital395.com/project-map/overview.html.
“I’d say the project is on schedule,” said Praxis CEO Mike Ort. “The only snag that is always looming is weather in Mono County. Weather can make a big difference.”
Ort said that snow storms in the High Sierra could delay some sections of the project “for months.”
If the weather holds out, Ort said crews are confident that sections through the Mammoth Lakes area will be completed by Christmas.
Ort said he is currently working to obtain building permits from cities that the project will pass through, including Bishop and Mammoth, to connect the main backbone that will follow U.S. 395 (which is already permitted) to those communities.
Ort said the completed project will bring local Internet and phone service to a whole new level. “The level of service will be 150 gigabits,” he said, explaining that current service providers can operate at about 45 megabits and “there are products and services that go up to 100 megabits.”
Ort also said the new fiber-optic cable will be “redundant,” which means the power supply can be routed from either end of the system. Essentially, if the cable is severed along any section of the project, local communities won’t lose their abilities to connect to the system.
Once the fiber optic line is “lit up,” Ort said residents will have immediate access to 4G phone networks and local hospitals will be able to utilize telemedicine technology and send specialized medical images to specialized hospitals, eliminating the need to move patients.
Through the Eastern Sierra Connect Regional Broadband Consortium, a number of Eastern Sierra residents and business owners are working together to raise awareness among the local business community and brainstorm ideas about how they can best utilize high-speed Internet connectivity when the project is complete. (See Tuesday’s edition of The Inyo Register.)
In addition to the end result of high-speed Internet connectivity that project supporters say will benefit the business community, Praxis is creating a number of local jobs as it builds the fiber-optic backbone.
Currently, Praxis is working with local tribal monitors who will be on-site as construction begins near sensitive archeological sites.
Dan Stone, president of the Owens Valley Contractors and Vendors Association, said one out-of-the-area firm, GeoTech, has hired Inyo residents to work on the project.
Praxis has “some other contractors working with them, but they’re not part of our organization, so I don’t know exactly who they are,” Stone said. Praxis is “bringing some pre-fab buildings for terminals and they have approached several of our contractors and asked them to bring it from the streets to buildings like the hospital.”
With more than 200 drops from the main backbone system to businesses, Stone added that the project should provide local communities with much-needed economic stimulus.