Redundant broadband cable a reality in Humboldt County; $14.4 million fiber-optic cable project launched Friday
Humboldt County is less vulnerable to broadband Internet blackouts thanks to a new redundant fiber optic cable that runs along the Highway 36 corridor in Humboldt and Trinity counties.
Friday marked the official launch of the 131-mile system, which is being leased by Internet service providers like Suddenlink and the local 101 Netlink business. Since 2003, Humboldt has relied on one fiber optic cable running along U.S. Highway 101 as its only means of broadband Internet access.
Gregg Foster, executive director of the Redwood Region Economic Development Corporation, said Humboldt residents experienced multiple outages in 2007 — events that drove home the need for a second line.
“I remember when the very first outage occurred, and all of a sudden nothing worked,” Foster said. “It knocked all the telecommunications off-line in the county.”
He said it’s difficult to attract businesses to an area without redundancy, as there’s no assurance that residents will still be able to access the Internet, run credit card transactions and pull money from ATMs if a line goes down.
“We see this as a hugely important piece of basic infrastructure that a community needs,” Foster said about the second cable.
Third District Humboldt County Supervisor Mark Lovelace agreed. He said reliable, redundant broadband is critical to economic and community development. He said the outages exposed the area’s vulnerability, and a redundant line has been a long time coming.
“This has taken years and years of effort to make it happen,” Lovelace said.
The project was completed by the San Francisco-based IP Networks Inc., which worked with Pacific Gas and Electric Company to install fiber optic cable on PG&E’s poles and towers — technically making PG&E the owner of the cable. The route follows PG&E’s existing right-of-way from the Cottonwood sub-station near Redding through both the Six Rivers and Shasta-Trinity National forests to Eureka and the Humboldt Bay area.
Not only does the line provide redundancy, it also allows service connections to places in eastern Humboldt and southern Trinity counties that were either under-served or had no service. According to a press release, providers like 101 Netlink will now be able to connect communities like Wildwood, Mad River, Ruth and Bridgeville, offering service to 527 rural households over a 218-square-mile area.
The total cost for the project is $14.4 million, of which $5.7 million was provided by the California Advance Services Fund. This fund was created to provide under-served areas with universal service. It’s supported by the public through a surcharge rate on revenues collected by telecommunications carriers.
Sean McLaughlin, executive director of Access Humboldt, said the public financing component of the project is of particular interest to his nonprofit, which was hooked up to the second cable on Friday through 101 Netlink. Access Humboldt focuses on providing residents with access to broadband and other media outlets in order to promote an informed public.
McLaughlin said he hopes places like libraries, schools and community centers will be able to have free access to this second line.
“We’ll be making sure that the public and government institutions all get the benefit,” McLaughlin said. “We support public investment and public benefit with these investments.”
Multiple agencies helped make the project happen, and Mary-Lou Smulders, vice president of strategies and implementation for IP Networks Inc., thanked the many partners in a press release on Friday.
“We couldn’t have done this without strong support from all of our fabulous partners in Humboldt and Trinity counties. The counties, PG&E, 101 Netlink, RREDC, the California Center for Rural Policy, Redwood Coast Connect, our customers and vendors and so many others have been there every step of the way to help with project design, planning, funding, permits and implementation,” Smulders
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