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We have options right here in Nevada County

Updated: Oct 9, 2019

Nevada County has not yet come up with a county-wide plan to ensure internet access in our region.The Sierra Business Council’s Gold Country Broadband Consortium is working on such a plan right now. The consortium is basing its plan on a public-private partnership model, and they will present it to the Board of Supervisors.In the meantime, small groups of Nevada County residents are taking matters into their own hands.

Andrew Wilkinson is not new to the broadband issues that plague Nevada County. He served as Spiral Internet’s volunteer chief financial officer and witnessed firsthand John Paul’s efforts to bring high speed internet to our county. But his interest has gotten more intense now that everyone in his neighborhood is streaming media and gaming online in the evenings, slowing everyone’s internet speed to a crawl.

Paying for 6Mbps download speed, he feels lucky when he gets 3Mbps.Wilkinson is creating his own underground fiber optic network. AT&T is fully supportive of his neighborhood network. They have no plans to upgrade the copper wires that currently serve Red Dog Road, where Wilkinson resides. Ironically, Wilkinson was the one who got AT&T to make DSL available to his area and 10 others in Nevada County in 2004.

This time, things will be different. Wilkinson is adamant about the wires going underground.

“I’m passionate about making sure all of this is underground,” he said. “In the middle of winter or when there is a fire, I don’t want to have to go out there and fix it. Where we live, here in the forest, [underground] is the right answer.”

To garner support for the network, Wilkinson has resorted to putting signs on trees and even hanging out near the neighborhood mailboxes, introducing himself and his vision for faster internet. Once he proves it can be done, Wilkinson would like to hand off the “Nevada County Fiber” project to — Nevada County.

“I would rather see public money funding a public network,” he said. “In five years, I hope to demonstrate enough success to turn this over to a community-owned nonprofit with a board of community leaders to decide where to take this network next.”

Wilkinson plans to apply for part of the $225K grant for last-mile broadband in Nevada County to fund the network.

Across town, Mike McLaughlin is taking a similar approach, with different technology. He formed a nonprofit called the Beckville Network to support a fixed wireless network that hooks into the VAST Fiber network near Newtown Road. This network is now serving 17 households in the Greater Champion Mine neighborhood at speeds between 50-120 Mbps. McLaughlin’s goal is to support 20 households. Each household buys in to the infrastructure, and pays a low monthly fee.

“The most challenging part was finding the first group of people to buy in, and learning about all of the technology for what needed to be done,” said McLaughlin. He is happy to share what he has learned with anyone who is interested in creating their own neighborhood wireless network.

There are options out there that could provide reliable, fast, and affordable broadband Internet access in Nevada County. This community was built by neighbors joining together and finding creative ways to get what they need. Support from our local government could make it much easier.

A comprehensive broadband plan that includes recommendations and policies for expanding, upgrading, and encouraging the adoption of infrastructure and services will go a long way in ensuring broadband access for all residents.

In the meantime, some communities are figuring it out on their own.

Erika Kosina, who lives in Nevada City, is a communications consultant and writer for the Nevada County Tech Connection.

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