Digital 395, the high-speed Internet project that will improve connections from Barstow to Reno, is nearing the last leg but unexpected delays may hold completion for another month.
The project was scheduled to be completed by July 31, but managers said the company building the fiber-optic backbone, Praxis Associates, said some permits from the U.S. Forest Service have yet to be issued, and some communities, including Inyo’s towns along the U.S. 395 corridor, probably won’t be completed until mid- or late August.
Praxis CEO Mike Ort said Wednesday that Mammoth Lakes should begin receiving its increased Internet speed by the end of the month.
“We have some issues with the Inyo National Forest that probably won’t be resolved until the end of the month,” Ort said. “By the end of next week we should have conduit along the entire route except for a couple areas that need to be bored.” One section of the project that needs to be bored, Ort said, is near Tinnemaha Reservoir south of Big Pine.
By September or October, Ort said high-speed Internet will be available all along the project route and even in outlying communities such as Randsberg in Kern County.
Ort said Praxis is working with the California Public Utilities Commission, the agency responsible for oversight of the project, to get an extension on the project’s deadline due to other “unforeseen” circumstances.
“We need additional support from the PUC for a couple reasons,” Ort said. “California changed the rules on (utility) pole attachments that we will use to connect to some of the smaller towns. In 2012, California changed the rules due to pole failures along the coast. We also spent $24 million on environmentally-related factors, that’s $20 million more than we anticipated. We made up $15 million of that through efficiencies. The commission has been very supportive, so I don’s see that as an issue.”
As Praxis works to complete the project and “light up” before the end of August, local Internet providers are preparing to ramp up services by upgrading some customers, and offering new Internet packages.
SuddenLink recently sent a mass mailing to its customers, informing them that their current 1.5 megabit per second Internet connection will be upgraded to a 15 megabit per second connection in mid-July with no additional cost to the customer. The company also said it would be offering new 30 MBPS and 50 MBPS options.
“Changes to our existing services will occur automatically at no added charge to the customer,” said Gene Regan, senior director of corporate communications. “No added equipment will be needed. Customers taking 30- or 50-meg services would need to be sure their modems and routers are capable of handling these faster services to take full advantage of them. Based on our most recent information from Digital 395, we’re planning to offer these faster speeds in Bishop sometime in August.”
Phone calls seeking information from other local Internet providers, Lone Pine Television and Schat.net, were not returned as of press time Wednesday. However, the Eastern Sierra Connect Regional Boradband Consortium said Lone Pine TV, which serves Lone Pine, Pangborn and Alabama Hills, will be providing two or six MBPS packages at $41.99 and $61.99 for residential users.
The consortium said Schat.net has signed a 1Gb service contract with Digital 395 and will be connecting to Digital 395 and testing the new fiber-optic backbone in July or August.
“We are taking stock, slowing down and making sure we have the funding,” Ort said. “The backbone (along U.S. 395) is the most important part. “I don’t want people to be drawing the wrong conclusions, we have our crews out and they’re still working and we already have cable and conduit in Bishop, Mammoth, Bridgeport and Lee Vining … the smaller towns will take a couple more weeks.”