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Placer County, Calif., Approves $2.2M Rural Broadband Project

Placer County just approved a project that aims to expand high-speed Internet access to 1,500 households in Auburn, North Auburn and Penryn. The project is expected to be finished by October 2022.

rural broadband internet
(TNS) — Rural residents of Placer County often don’t have reliable Internet. The county’s Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday on a project to try to change that.

The board unanimously approved a grant for Wave Broadband of Roseville to build fiber-optic Internet infrastucture in parts of Auburn, North Auburn and Penryn, the first phase of a long, concerted effort to bring high-speed Internet to the county's rural communities.

“We’re extending fiber to the home, which is a very exciting thing for rural communities because you don’t see that very often,” said Dieter Wittenberg, manager of the county’s telecommunications in the meeting Tuesday.

The project will cost more than $2.2 million and will bring service to 1,500 households in the areas of Edgehill Road in Auburn, Butler Road in Penryn and Christian Valley Road in North Auburn.

Placer County will contribute $500,000 to the project, said Jarrett Thiessen, chief information officer for Placer County.

“A network build in these service areas is cost prohibitive without the county’s financial contribution due to the rural nature and rocky terrain,” he said in a presentation.

Without the county’s contribution, it’s unlikely any Internet service provider would have wanted to build the infrastructure in these rural areas. The lots are too big, and they’re not densely populated, making the venture very expensive without much opportunity for an immediate return on investment, he explained.

The project is expected to be completed by October 2022.

“Placer County’s efforts in the broadband arena are far from over,” said Jane Christenson, assistant county executive officer.

The county also dedicated part of its CARES Act funding to this effort.

“This is really the beginning,” Christenson added.

The county plans to award more grants to companies for building broadband infrastructure, Thiessen said. This first grant was focused on installing fiber-optic cable, which is the fastest broadband Internet connection currently available.

Internet connectivity issues have been an ongoing problem for the majority of rural residents, ranging from those in Auburn to Truckee and Lake Tahoe.

Supervisor Suzanne Jones said her constituents in Granite Bay have reported issues with their Internet speed because of aging or outdated infrastructure. The issues are so persistent that it has prevented some who have relocated to Granite Bay from effectively telecommuting, she said.

Supervisor Cindy Gustafson, who represents much of rural Placer County, said slow Internet connections or no Internet service at all has been an issue plaguing her constituents for awhile.

In Meadow Vista and Olympic Valley specifically, she said, residents have been weeks and even months without service.

“The customers pay and get no service,” she said.

In July, the Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the Internet service provider for these communities, Suddenlink, asking the company to address its customer service and infrastructure issues.

Placer officials, along with Nevada County, Mono County and the city of Truckee, signed the letter, calling the service issues “significant,” and asking the company to address them immediately.

“ . . . Our continued efforts to work with Suddenlink have been frustrated by a lack of local staff, Suddenlink’s unwillingness to commit to specific steps to improve its service or to provide a specific timetable for improvements,” the letter said. It also cited “Suddenlink’s failure to provide basic information such as customer service standards, and the ongoing volume of complaints received from the public regarding Suddenlink’s customer service.”

“It’s so critical to so many families, homes, businesses and youth to have access,” Gustafson said.

Thiessen said the county is developing a strategic plan for addressing the county’s broadband infrastructure goals and will complete it in December.

In future grants, the county will identify specific communities with high need to be the recipient of upcoming infrastructure projects.

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