Broadband project gets $1 million boost

Residents in the Peardale community are expected to get broadband internet access a year sooner than expected thanks to a $1 million grant the Nevada County Board of Supervisors approved with Race Communication.

The deal approved last week will speed up above ground fiber optic connections for 500 homes in the Zone 2 area of the Bright Fiber project — a $27 million effort aiming to connect nearly 2,000 homes and businesses in six zones along Highway 174 that’s been held up for years.

The funding will now allow Race to add more construction crews and expedite material orders, according to its application. Without the grant the area would not be connected until the end of 2021, when the entirety of the project is expected to be completed.

Race is expected to complete 200 home connections in October, 200 in November, and the final 100 in December.

“That was the region that was identified by the school district as well as local residents as not having service,” said Jim Miller, vice president of sales and marketing for Race. “That was the purpose of this grant, to get service to people who need it now.”

Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay told supervisors the grant is needed in the area to improve distance learning and to avoid further exacerbating student inequity.

“Before March we knew we had issues with internet connectivity in the county. Since we closed the schools in March it has exposed a huge inequality that we have here in Nevada County,” Lay said. “In the schools we are greatly worried with students who are falling behind due to the lack of internet connectivity or the availability of hot spots.”

After proposing in July to use up to $1 million of Nevada County’s $10 million state coronavirus relief fund allocation for broadband, the county received six proposals from providers. A panel made of county staff, Sierra Business Council staff and an outside consultant judged the proposals looking for shovel-ready projects and chose Race, whose project was already permitted and underway.

According to Race, the expedited construction will also allow it to expand its network backbone west toward Rattlesnake Ridge and La Barr Meadows. Separate from the agreement, Race committed $1 million to construct fiber optic connections to 130 homes in the La Barr Meadows area by the third quarter of 2021.

TIMELINE

In April ­— after initially expecting implementation by May — Race representatives said they expected to complete construction of the entire infrastructure by the end of this year. Testing and installation will then follow.

According to Miller, the pandemic has not slowed Race down, though it has affected some of its partners needed to move forward.

“As of right now, permits are falling into line,” Miller said. “It hasn’t affected our construction crews, our contractors, or Race staff. It has not affected us at all.”

Residents in Zone 1 were installed with the service last week.

“To build a network like this there’s a lot of the back haul and the (Point of Presence) — the main brain of the network — that has to be built first, and now that that’s all completed the zones can get plugged in much faster,” Miller said. “It was exciting to start turning the residents on last week.”

Race said they will contract with a company local to Grass Valley for in-home installation.

The contract stipulates a report will be due at the end of October and January.

According to county officials, stipulations tied to the coronavirus relief funding meant it could only be spent on items not already budgeted, were necessary due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, and whose expenses were incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30. The project met the criteria by increasing broadband capacity by a “significant extent,” as required by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

“We’re rolling along, but we’re rolling along in a manner that I think most rural counties would be envious of,” Supervisor Dan Miller said.

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email [email protected] or call 530-477-4229.

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