Santa Cruz County broadband policy initiative becomes a model for California

22 October 2013 by Steve Blum
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Santa Cruz innovation gains traction in California.

The effort to clear obstacles to better broadband infrastructure in Santa Cruz County was widely praised by local elected officials and telecoms company representatives from across California, at a two day conference in Sacramento last week, organised by the California Emerging Technology Fund and Valley Vision.

“It’s a very effective process”, said Marc Blakeman, an AT&T staff lobbyist who spoke to the eighty-plus people in attendance. As the roundtable discussion turned to local challenges in other parts of the state, elected leaders repeatedly cited Santa Cruz County’s broadband infrastructure policy as a model to follow.

“The real driver for our policy initiative was the gap in our professional economy”, explained Patrick Mulhearn, the policy director for Aptos supervisor Zach Friend, who sponsored and guided the development of the resolution that was approved earlier this month. The goal is to “provide opportunities for a professional class to flourish in Santa Cruz County”.

Supervisor Friend worked with county departments and set up one-on-one meetings with service providers, something Blakeman said was a key to the success of the initiative.

Mulhearn ran down the list of elements that were crafted together into a comprehensive set of policies: a “dig once” process that requires notification and an opportunity for broadband companies to join in whenever a street is cut open; master lease agreements to simplify access to county facilities; routinely including conduit in public works projects, new developments and land divisions; and treating broadband projects like any other utility, subject only to a technical and safety review by county engineers.

That last measure produced a surprised and delighted gasp from Laurie Miller, AT&T’s director of construction and engineering, who deals daily with the complicated and time consuming approval process that’s otherwise typical in California.

“It doesn’t have to be baby steps”, Mulhearn told the roundtable audience. “I encourage you to be agressive and forward thinking”.