With high-speed Internet capabilities making their way to Inyo County through the Digital 395 project, local residents and business owners are joining forces through the Eastern Sierra Connect Regional Broadband Consortium to promote the project and technologies that will be available locally.
Before the Digital 395 project is completed and turned on next summer, the Consortium hopes to get local communities up to speed on what a fiber-optic backbone means for the business community and private sector.
To that end, Consortium members meet regularly to hear updates on Digital 395’s progress, discuss ideas on how the system can best be utilized when it is finished and educate non-members on the individual, business economic development that will be available.
“With the increase in supply of bandwidth, the existing (Internet) providers can and will increase your speed of download/upload by a factor of 10, if not more,” Consortium member and local business owner Doug Thompson said. “This means when you log on and search or connect to existing sites, you have bookmarked, the page will load much faster, you should be able to watch video streaming without delays or loading.”
The completed Digital 395 Project will also increase phone services through Voice Over IP, make online college courses more convenient and allow residents to research products before purchasing them with greater ease.
The high-speed Internet service will also allow local hospitals to practice “telemedicine” by transferring patient information to specialized hospitals, doctors and clinics while the patient remains in the community.
The Consortium will be hosting a workshop regarding TeleHealth from 1-3 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29 at Southern Inyo Hospital in Lone Pine.
Workshop speakers include California TeleHealth Resource Center Executive Director Kathy Chorba, Executive Director of the Southern Sierra TeleHealth Network Earl W. Ferguson, SIH CEO Lee Barron and Michael Ort, CEO of Praxis, the company that is building the Digital 395 Project.
Residents are invited to register for the class online at www.escrbconsortium.org/telehealth .
Thompson said part of his goal as a member of the Consortium is to teach local business owners how to use the Internet to their advantage and keep up with changing consumer trends. He said he is a firm believer that every business should have a website, and locally, business websites should be linked, giving tourists an easy way to navigate through the various attractions and services that are available.
He said there are programs available to get “mom and pop” businesses started on developing a website free of charge, or at a low price.
“The website can start with a free design on a very low budget. To give you an idea, WordPress, a free and really easy-to-use website building tool, has over 1,500 free website designs to choose from,” Thompson said “So we are looking at an expense of $90 a year (about $80 hosting plus $10 to register the name).”
He went on to say that a good website can increase sales by reaching new customers and increase services by helping to locate new vendors.
“If you are limited to the customer base of the area and your population base remains the same or declines, your growth model is somewhat limited,” Thompson said, pointing out that Inyo’s population is not booming. “Either you raise prices, you add a new product line or expand your customer base. Not to dwell on the subject, but we, as business owners, can’t buy much from the area now and are at the mercy of the wholesalers out of the area.”
Thompson said the Internet allows business owners to bypass many of the middle wholesalers, and go to the manufacturer directly with overnight or one- to three-day delivery.
By cutting out the middle-man, “we can provide products, at a price point at or below the cities,” Thompson said.
Anyone who is interested in getting involved in the Consortium to share ideas about how to best utilize the technology being made available through the Digital 395 Project, or who would like to learn what ideas the Consortium has already developed and how it can benefit them, is invited to visit the http://escrbconsortium.org , email email@example.com  or call (760) 446-1974.