“Broadband connectivity is the new deepwater seaport,” said Mary Ann Leffel, chair of the Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s (CCBC) economic development expert group and president of the Monterey County Business Council (MCBC). But it’s more than just a visit by a cruise ship. It’s about attracting and keeping businesses and creating jobs.
Economic development is the primary goal of the CCBC, explained Nancy Martin, CCBC executive team member and executive director of MCBC as she opened the discussion at the CCBC’s Get Connected conference she organized in Seaside on 6 December 2012. It featured a series of workshops for economic development professionals, telecoms carriers, independent Internet service providers and planning, public works and information technology managers from local agencies.
Much of the discussion was about things local government can do to promote better broadband infrastructure in the region, which encompasses Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey Counties. The CCBC presented examples of existing broadband-friendly policies and discussed ideas for model policies that could be considered region-wide.
“We want to increase access and competition,” said Peter Koht, economic development coordinator for the City of Santa Cruz and the CCBC’s policy development lead. The big challenge, though, is that “population density plays a key role in determining where telecommunications companies can recover their investment.”
To overcome it, predominantly rural areas like California’s central coast have to find ways to lower construction and operating costs, and leverage public capital improvement budgets to support basic broadband infrastructure such as conduits and fiber routes. Koht recommended three top level policy points for local governments in the region to consider:
- Include broadband in planning documents, such as general plans, or find creative ways to use language in existing plans to give broadband the same priority as any other essential utility.
- Routinely enter all broadband-related assets into electronic geographic information systems to make it easy to find existing infrastructure and identify gaps and opportunities to fill those gaps.
- Establish “dig once” policies and requirements for installing broadband infrastructure – empty conduit, for example – whenever streets are cut open or new construction is planned.
Participants agreed on next steps for the CCBC, including ongoing discussion of goals and initiatives amongst economic development officers, briefing elected officials and other key policy-makers on broadband needs and opportunities, and putting broadband policy and development resources online.
This work is funded by a three year grant from the California Public Utility Commission, via the California Advanced Services Fund. The conference wrapped up the CCBC project’s first year and established a consensus for moving ahead with next year’s work.