Savoring victory at eastern Sierra broadband meeting

20 September 2013 by Steve Blum
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Looking forward in Bishop.

What a difference a year makes. The Eastern Sierra Connect Regional Broadband Consortium held its annual meeting in Bishop, California on Thursday. Like last year’s forum, the conversation was dominated by Digital 395, a middle mile fiber optic network that runs the length of the region – Mono, Inyo and eastern Kern counties – and connects to major transcontinental routes in Reno and Barstow.

But it was a much different conversation. Last year Michael Ort, the CEO of Praxis Associates and Digital 395 lead, was, by turns, defensive and adamant about completion of the project, which had just begun construction after two years of delays. This year, Ort was matter of fact about finishing up the last few remaining segments (although no one would ever accuse him of being relaxed).

The hundred-plus local business people, residents and local officials in attendance were likewise much happier. Speakers – including elected officials and representatives from local Internet service providers, social service agencies, schools and libraries – told of plans for using the network and the abundant, cheap bandwidth it’s already delivering.

Economic development was nearly everyone’s primary concern. With tourism the major local industry (excepting agriculture) the focus was on improving services for long and short term visitors. Free public WiFi access was high on the list, as was tailoring bandwidth plans for the hospitality industry. “A lot of people have working vacations, they come here to work,” Ort said.

There was also excitement about the possibilities for small businesses to reach out to global markets. One speaker demonstration how data-driven 3-D printing could help to revitalise California’s manufacturing sector, even remotely from the sparsely populated eastern side of the state.

There’s still a lot of work to be done in order to extend middle mile bandwidth to businesses and residents via local Internet service providers – Digital 395 is a solely a wholesaler. The consortium’s new priority is to build that market. There’s every reason to think next year’s meeting will be just as celebratory.