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Slashing the cost of getting to yes clears the way for broadband upgrades

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If you want fast and cheap Internet service, then your permit process has to be fast and cheap, too. That was the essence of the message that Santa Cruz County supervisor Zach Friend delivered to the Central Sierra Connect Broadband Consortium conference in Tuolumne City last week.

Traditionally, getting county approval to bury fiber or install an equipment box was a complicated process that subjected broadband projects to the same level of scrutiny and one-off analysis that might be applied to a new shopping center. That required a lot of staff time and, as a result, was very costly.

A typical permit for broadband construction costs $25,000, according to Friend. “That’s onerous”, he said.

The solution is to make it a routine process, as with other utilities. To do that, Friend has crafted a package of broadband-specific reforms for Santa Cruz County, taking infrastructure project review from the planning department – which goes through an intensive and subjective process to get to yes – to the public works department, which makes assessments based on more objectively oriented technical standards.

As a result, getting permission to build broadband infrastructure in Santa Cruz County will be an over-the-counter process that costs $200 and should typically take two weeks.

Dropping the price of county permission from $25,000 to $200 and making it a fast and predictable exercise is as good as giving Internet service providers a direct subsidy, Friend told a room full of elected officials and senior staff from several central Sierra counties and cities. It’s about giving the county employees responsible for reviewing projects the power to say yes.