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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

By Chris Frost


Ventura-- The Ventura County Board of Supervisors, on March 16, adopted a resolution supporting increased broadband access to underserved areas throughout Ventura County.


Broadband encourages economic growth and brings more businesses to Ventura County, needing a connection to the internet.


In August 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a broadband executive order that established a new 100/100 Mbps Broadband Action Plan.


The plan deploys affordable and reliable broadband networks throughout California and continuous improvements in economic and workforce development.


Ventura County Information Technology Chief Information Officer Terry Theobald presented the item to the supervisors and said he presented ISF Rates in February and said he'd be back and cover broadband in more detail.


Broadband is more than fiber, and it can be delivered via Copper, Coax, DSL, and Spectrum has done a lot of that work.


"We use microwave to send signals back-and-forth for information sharing," he said. "There's proprietary vendors out there who provide their own unique brand of wireless technology to meet broadband requirements. Then cellular is coming with 5G."


Back in the early 1980s, at the advent of the personal computer, he said the connection to the internet was 9600 baud.


"If we move forward into DSL land, I can remember that 6Mbps was the peak," he said. "Prior to a recent order signed by Governor Newsom, we were at 30 Mbps. The connectivity we're looking at now is 100 Mbps. Our project is to get to 1Gbps, which is a billion."


Theobald said the county remains focused on providing online services and making them easier to get.


"Also, in a manner that works best for you," he said. "We have smart cities and counties, which focus on sensors and awareness of what's going on in the city and county. That includes everything from traffic signals to cameras looking for fires, lighting control, and all of those sorts of things. Between the two, it provides better and more effective, cost-efficient delivery of services."


He said Covid-19 fueled the need for broadband access.


"We're talking about telecommuting, and of course, we have distance learning and commerce," he said. "Everybody I know at this point, their primary lifeline is through Amazon and their local grocery store. Telegovernement, which is what we're doing now, and telemedicine, which goes back to all the great work that's being done at HCA.  It allows patients to get medical care without having to go to the government center. There are risks associated with getting out in public."


The county partnered with Magellan Advisors, the Pacific Coast Broadband Consortium, the Economic Development Collaborative, the Southern California Association of Counties, and the SoCal Digital Divide Group on the effort. 


"We've met with city managers, city and county IT managers, public works directors, all of the important utilities, the Ventura County Transportation Commission was of particular interest because they own the right-of-way for the railway, public safety officials, and CalTrans," he said.


Theobald said AB14 and SB4 were important state bills focusing on funding broadband.


"They're looking to prioritize rural communities, underserved areas, and be dig ready," he said. "Dig ready decides where we want to put our broadband, and we completed some engineering. We already have some agreements in place, and we're waiting for funding."


In Ventura County, he said a community group in Somis badly wants to get broadband going.


"It's an underserved and disadvantaged area," Theobald said. In underserved areas, you don't have broadband at all. In a disadvantaged area, you have people who might not be able to afford broadband. We want to make sure that we're taking both of those into account. In October 2020, the board directed the CEO's office and county council to research a tax district for Somis broadband. The feasibility study is already in progress. I'm keeping tabs on that as part of my project. The goal is to have a report back to the board in the second quarter of 2021."


There's a fiber connection point in Somis, he said, which can be accessed for broadband.


Nyland Promise, he said, has a grassroots effort underway to get broadband for elementary school children.


"They eventually plan to grow it to high school students and all adults in the community," he said. "They were able to talk to the El Rio School District and access the school's internet connection through Rio del Valle School and use microwave to beam the internet over to Nyland. Rio del Valle is on Rose and Nyland on Santa Clara."


They have a connection to the internet for the middle mile, but they need to reach residences and commercial areas.


"We create a middle mile; it takes us to the end of the residential and commercial area," he said. "Typically, it's taken from there and distributed out to the residences or individual stores. This is developed similar to the way electricity is handled. You have large towers that provide large-capacity electricity. This eventually split off, and feeder lines are sent to individual neighborhoods and houses."


The county is focusing on getting the middle mile in place.


"It doesn't do us a lot of good to reach all the residences that need to be reached unless you have high-enough capacity internet access," he said. "The middle mile will do that."


The county is seeking federal and state funding. Federal grants are tied to Covid-19 activities. They are also looking to share existing capital improvement projects, the dig once philosophy.


"We've been talking to CalTrans, and when they decide to widen the 101, they'll allow us to lay our conduit in the same trench they're going to have open for their purposes," he said. "We also have a water district that's interested in helping us. We have a water provider who'll allow us to run fiber inside their water pipe. What's interesting about fiber is they're using light instead of electricity."


The county will need to leverage general funds, but he's not sure about the exact number because many times, they need matching funds.


The item passed unanimously.