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Mammoth and some other Eastern Sierra customers can still expect to see higher broadband speeds by mid-August, but the completion date for the full Digital 395 project has now been moved to the end of October, according to the project’s CEO.
“We, along with about half of the rest of the NTIA (National Transportation and Information Administration) project proponents, asked for and received an extension,” said Michael Ort, the CEO for Praxis Associates.
“We are shooting for Halloween at the latest.”
He is also asking the State of California for about $10.9 million to fill a funding gap for the $101 million project and he said he expects an affirmative answer to that request around Sept. 5.
“We are reasonably comfortable that the commission (the California Public Utilities Commission) will look favorably on it,” he said, “though I cannot guarantee it.”
He said if that does not happen, the project will still be completed.
The delay and cost overrun does not mean every community in the Eastern Sierra will be waiting for higher broadband speeds until the end of October.
“We are shooting for the end of August or early September for Bishop,” he said. “We are about a month away from tying up the south end.”
Walker, Coleville, June Lake and some sections of Bridgeport, along with Big Pine, Independence, Lone Pine and some potential “anchors,” such as the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Center (SNARL), will follow, he said.
“All of them, however, will be connected by the end of October,” he said.
For its part, Mammoth residents can expect the quality testing part of the Digital 395 project to begin after Monday Aug. 5, he said.
“We will choose random customers for a ‘beta-trial’ phase,” he said. “That will ensure when we do go live on a broader scale, customers are getting what they expect.”
That process will take between a few days and a week, he said.
Suddenlink representatives said in previous interviews they are ready to go as soon as Digital 395 gives them the go-ahead. Suddenlink has promised speeds that bring residential customers service that is 10 megabits per second and higher, as compared to current speeds of 1.5 to 3 megabits per second.
Verizon did not return calls.
Some providers that service communities outside of Mammoth will no doubt wish the backbone was done sooner, Ort said, but he said the big picture is still what counts.
“What people don’t realize is we have achieved something remarkable here,” he said. “I understand their impatience, but to only focus on the narrow and small problems, that seems counterproductive.”
Most of the communities that will be waiting for service are waiting due to budget issues, he said.
“We had to do triage and chose where to pull out of some places in the middle of the project due to the higher-than-expected costs of the environmental documentation process,” he said. “Those are the places, like Walker, that we are going to return to before the October deadline.”
One such place is in the Casa Diablo area east of the Crowley Lake dam.
There, Praxis is waiting for the permit to drill under an archeological site rich in Native American artifacts. The wait has created a 4,200-foot gap in the 583-mile fiber optic line.
Although Ort and the Inyo National Forest, which must grant Praxis a permit before the company can either drill under the site or lay fiber, have said in a previous interview that they expect to solve the problems, Ort said if for some reason the final gap is not completed, the entire massive project is seriously compromised.
“It’s like having a 60-foot string with a two-inch gap in it,” he said.
If the gap is not eliminated, he said, the project would not be economically sustainable.
“It will be worth about 10 percent of its capability,” he said.
The issue is quality, which is linked to redundancy.
The backbone must be fully connected to ensure that should any one section of the backbone have problems in the future, there is built-in redundancy.
“Without that, the big customers, someone who might want to link Las Vegas to Reno, say, won’t be interested and the project will cease to be economically sustainable,” he said.