Two consortia — Northeastern California Connect (NECCC) and Upstate California Connect (UCCC) — are coupling efforts to develop a broadband infrastructure plan that could provide Internet access to more than 1 million rural Northern California residents in 11 counties collectively.

“We’re ensuring that rural citizens in Northern California will not be disenfranchised in terms of essential needs for the 21st century,” said Tom West, consortium manager with Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California, the group that submitted the grant application on behalf of NECCC and UCCC.

The three-year project is supported by two California Advanced Services Fund Rural and Urban Broadband Consortia grants approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Dec. 1, 2011, along with five other consortia across the state. The seven grants total more than $1.5 million. NECCC and UCCC are funded for $449,991 and $448,184, respectively, according to a CPUC press release.

NECCC spans Butte, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta, Siskiyou and Tehama counties, while UCCC spans Colusa, Glenn, Lake, and Sonoma.

Both the NECCC and UCCC were allotted $150,000 each for the first year of the grant and are also working with Redwood Coast Connect Consortium to create the plan for a 16-county integrated and robust regional middle-mile infrastructure, countywide backbone system for 11 counties, and eventually a community last-mile infrastructure with networks for mobile and fixed technologies.

Over the past few months, the two groups have worked to identify regional fiber-optic routes to interconnect counties.

“As a result of that, we have come up with our first draft of a conceptual design for a regional middle-mile infrastructure, which we will likely unveil at the end of this month,” West said, noting that a final plan should be finished in July 2012.

The groups have also worked with three of the 11 counties thus far to design the backbones, interconnecting communities in each county and linking to the regional middle mile.

“We’re basically building a plan from the ground up,” West said. “We’re progressing each year and, ultimately, in the third year we’ll be working with people to adopt the use of broadband.”

Cathy Emerson, associate consortium manager, said that the groups could start constructing the Northern California broadband infrastructure as early as summer 2013, depending on infrastructure deployment grant funding from the Public Utilities Commission.

Both NECCC and UCCC were initially formed by California State University, Chico’s Center for Economic Development, and are currently made up of government entities, Native American communities, public safety, health care, education, nonprofit, telecommunication providers and private businesses.

Emerson said that she is excited about making a difference in the lives of the citizens in these rural counties.

“I believe that broadband is the great equalizer — we are in a position to change how people are accessing Internet services,” she said. “Where individuals did not have access, there is a greater likelihood that not only will they have access, they will have choice.”

This story was originally published on Techwire.net.

Melanie Glover  |  Writer for Techwire.net