Proposed broadband speeds in South County may leave Mammoth behind

Cursing slow internet speeds is almost a local pastime in Mono County, especially in the communities outside of Mammoth where upload speeds of less than one megabit per second are common.

That might be about to change if a new provider, Burlingame, California-based Race Telecommunications, Inc., gets the approval of the state Public Utilities Commission to build the “final mile” fiber-optic broadband cable to the communities of Aspen Springs, Chalfant, Crowley Lake and Sunny Slopes.

In fact, the four communities will leave Mammoth residents—recently happy to see speeds increased to about 15-30 megabits per second as a base line for residential use—in the dust, giving the South County communities access to speeds as fast as 1 gigabit per second for competitive costs.

“The proposed Mono County Project area is an underserved area that currently does not have access to wireline broadband service … where wireless broadband speeds are less than 6 megabits per second download and 1.5 megabits per second upload,” according to Race’s proposal.

The proposal received a letter of support from the Mono County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, and it promised much.

“When completed, the project will provide broadband access to households at speeds of 1 gigabit per second download and 100 megabits upload.

“These ‘underserved communities’ have previously been identified as some of the county’s priority areas for broadband service. This project fits in with the county’s objectives of bringing ‘the best service possible to our communities’ by bringing gigabit speeds to households and businesses in these areas.”

The project, now under a mandated 30-day public comment period, is expected to be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission on June 26 because it has the strong backing of the commission and the state—although no vote is final until it is taken.

“I don’t think there will be any opposition,” said Nate Greenberg, the county’s director of IT services. “I feel fairly confident this will go through.”

It will be welcome news to the four communities, which are now served by a shifting patchwork of providers who provide wildly varying products, forcing customers to patch together creative combinations of DSL, router-supported wifi and mysterious boxes that do mysterious things—none of which are fast.

“These communities will get the Cadillac service,” Greenberg said.

He noted that Suddenlink’s current service to Mammoth, however, still meets the needs of 95 percent of Mammoth residents, who do not need the extreme high speeds measured in gigabits.

If someone in Mammoth did want such speeds, such as a business or mall, another “final mile” provider capable of laying broadband cable, called Inyo Network, is an option.

“These speeds are available is you are willing to pay, to a certain degree,” he said. “The issue is the ‘willing to pay’ part.”

He said such a service would make more sense for a business already close to one of the Digital 395’s county, hospital, school or other large customers, but far less practical for a private resident living in the Knolls, where getting the actual cable to the residence would be very expensive.

“Race [Telecommunications] has targeted these areas for broadband deployment because of the existence of customer demand and because it determined the project to be economically feasible with the assistance of a … grant of $4,650,593 to match Race’s funding of $2,611,959,” the proposal stated.

According to the proposal, Race will build the network by deploying long haul fiber from Digital 395 to the local region and then establishing a regional central office and collocation facility and subsequently building a regional backbone in order to establish a local fiber ring.

Pricing is expected to be competitive, with speeds as high as 25 megabits per second costing about $25 a month, and higher speeds costing more, the company’s proposal stated. The pricing will be good for two years.

“Race has committed to a two-year broadband pricing plan starting from the initial date of service.”

The project was originally challenged by both Verizon and Suddenlink but in 2013, Suddenlink withdrew its challenge and the state deemed Verizon’s challenge to be “unsubstantiated,” according to the proposal.

Once funded, the project is expected to be completed within 18 months.

The project was chosen by a local broadband access advocacy group, Eastern Sierra Connect Consortium, as a “high priority for broadband deployment.”

It is expected to be a part of the state Legislature’s mandate that no less than 98 percent of California households will have access to broadband by no later than December 31, 2015, according to the Race proposal.