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Group hoping to bring ‘Internet world’ to all residents

Businessman says lack of broadband only thing blocking working from home
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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A local organization is hoping to work with business and community representatives to bring residents in five counties into the Internet world. A local resident said he is eager for broadband Internet service so he can make a change in his business, and another man said he wanted broadband because it is more reliable than his previous dial-up service. The Sierra Economic Development Corporation, or SEDCorp, is a nonprofit Auburn-based organization with a mission of “supporting the economic development of the rural communities north and east of Sacramento,” according to its website. SEDCorp is hosting a meeting of the Gold Country Broadband Consortium from 1-3 p.m. Thursday in the Rose Room at Auburn City Hall on Lincoln Way to discuss a three-year program to expand broadband Internet service in Placer, Nevada, Sierra, El Dorado and Alpine counties. Brent Smith, chief executive officer of SEDCorp, said the consortium is a group of stake holders including health care providers, government officials, educators, library service providers, Internet service providers, consumers and more who want to be involved in the expansion. Smith said the population of the five counties is about 625,000 people and about 300,000 of them have little or no broadband Internet service. Grass Valley resident Ron Milner is the chief inventor for Grass Valley-based company Applied Design Labs, which designs consumer electronic products. Milner said he wants to move the business to his home, but he currently has no broadband access there. “I have to have broadband, and it goes within five miles of here,” Milner said. “But AT&T doesn’t have any plans to expand it, because they just have a real limited expansion budget, particularly in California. Right now the broadband is the only thing that is stopping me.” Auburn resident Mike Rains, who had Wave Broadband Internet service installed at his home Wednesday, said he wanted the service for its reliability, because his dial-up had a tendency to lose its connection, frustrating his wife and children. “More of their homework is revolving around doing stuff and researching on the Internet, and speed is important for them,” Rains said. “(When the connection was lost) you would lose your work and then you would have to start all over again. Technology has changed so much in the last year let alone in the last five years, and anything we can do to do better and be more successful for my children, then sure I want to do that for them.” Smith said he thinks everyone should have broadband because they could otherwise be missing out on what some websites have to offer. “Broadband needs to be available to anyone just like any other utility, because having it available means becoming a true member of the Internet world and availing yourself to everything that’s available in it,” Smith said. Smith said at the meeting SEDCorp hopes to hear feedback about the project from those who attend and plans to present the draft of a grant application to the California Public Utilities Commission. The grant would award $150,000 each year over three years to help with the facilitation of the project, Smith said. Smith said if the grant is awarded, the consortium will get back together to develop its strategy, including what state-of-the-art options are available with broadband in specific fields, such as patients being able to check their medical records online. The group would then hold community meetings in areas that don’t have broadband, so professionals such as health care providers could demonstrate what is available through quicker Internet speeds. “We know that as soon as the consumers know all that could be available, they are going to be wanting it even more,” Smith said. “But just saying they want it … isn’t enough. We want to make the business case. We want to take a free market approach to this saying, ‘This is more than nice to have. This is a got to have.’” To do this the consortium would ask interested community members to put down a deposit, which SEDCorp would place into escrow. This would provide a financially backed state of demand, Smith said. SEDCorp and Internet service providers would then seek out investors for broadband expansion in individual communities in order to begin the projects. The escrowed money would eventually go toward the broadband service, either through SEDCorp or the customers who made the deposits, Smith said. Smith said he doesn’t have an estimated cost of the individual projects yet, but he feels confident investments would occur. SEDCorp also plans to help if needed. “We know none of them are cheap or they would be done, but we also know money follows good ideas,” he said. “We are also anticipating the availability of $1 million of our own money for making loans to broadband projects.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ----------------------------------------------------- Gold Country Broadband Consortium meeting What: Community meeting to discuss the initials steps of expanding broadband Internet service to five local counties, including Placer and Nevada. When: 1-3 p.m. Thursday Where: Rose Room on bottom level of Auburn City Hall, 1225 Lincoln Way Everyone is invited