Construction is expected to begin in mid-May -- and wrap up in September -- on a fiber optic cable that will span from Eureka to Shasta County, giving the North Coast a long-awaited redundant broadband line.
The project is still waiting for permits to put the line through Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers national forests, but construction will start on either end of the project and save that portion for last, said IP Networks Inc. Vice President of Finance Chuck Stewart. His company received a $4.2 million grant in 2009 from the California Advanced Services Fund to complete the project along the Highway 36 corridor. He said they have been working for more than a year to get the land rights and studies needed to put down the line.
The total cost is upwards of $10 million.
”It's all coming together,” Stewart said.
Two main fiber optic cables travel north to south in California -- one up Interstate 5 and the other up U.S. Highway 101. Stewart said this project will connect the two east to west.
Since 2003, Humboldt County has relied upon the fiber optic cable running along Highway 101. With only one cable connecting Humboldt area residents, outages become a greater threat. In 2007, breaks in the line caused four outages within one year's time, said Gregg Foster, Redwood Region Economic Development Commission executive director.
Outages don't just keep local residents from accessing the web, but also shut down credit card transactions,
certain navigation equipment, cell phones and ATMs, he said.
Foster said it was a “Hail Mary pass” when he approached Pacific Gas and Electric while he worked at Lost Coast Communications to use the utility company's right of way to lay a fiber optic cable. To his surprise, PG&E was responsive and had IP Networks head the project. Humboldt County and other entities have been involved in funding studies and forums for the project, Foster said.
”It's been quite the community effort and it was sort of started by a few of us beating the drum,” Foster said.
The 121-mile project has proven complex, given the magnitude of the project and the terrain it has to cross, Stewart said.
California Center for Rural Policy Executive Director Connie Stewart said the cable will provide some redundancy to Humboldt and Trinity counties, but not completely. Only carriers and service providers that have stakes in both fiber optic cables will still be able to function if one of the lines is taken out, but she said this is a step up from the area's current predicament.
”This community has been really united to have better telecommunications throughout the county,” she said.
Ultimately, Connie Stewart said she'd like to see a “ladder” of east to west lines between I-5 and Highway 101 to provide broadband to more rural communities. After this installation, many small communities will be newly connected along the way, but others will still remain without for now.
”This is a big step, but there's more work to do,” Connie Stewart said.
The Humboldt County and Trinity County boards of supervisors recently sent a letter of support to IP Networks' undertaking, forwarding it to the California Public Utilities Commission and the Six Rivers and Shasta-Trinity national forest.
”This is a priority project for our two counties, as the current lack of reliable broadband infrastructure puts our communities at a severe economic disadvantage,” the letter signed by Supervisors Mark Lovelace from Humboldt County and Judy Morris from Trinity County stated. “For this reason we encourage the cooperation and assistance of any and all agencies that may have a role in the implementation of this project, so as to ensure its timely completion.”
The Sarasota Police Department said Officer Jason Frank