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Moves afoot to help rural Placer areas gain faster Internet

Many in Placer County’s smaller communities have same Internet needs as cities
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - A partnership of regional stakeholders is working together in Placer and nearby counties to improve Internet availability.

The Gold Country Broadband Consortium has been working with Auburn-based Sierra Economic Development Corporation in pockets of Placer to help speed up Internet service and provide more broadband options.

So far, the group has seen breakthroughs in some areas, including the Auburn Airport Industrial Park. Dave Snyder, Placer County economic development director, said Thursday that the broadband group has worked closely with WAVE Broadband and the Auburn Area Business Park Association to bring fiber optics – and faster Internet – to the Auburn airport area in North Auburn.

Placer County, another partner in the consortium, has recognized the need for high-speed data services by working in the Colfax area to bring a new fiber-optic network by WAVE Broadband to about 1,200 customers in that community.

Snyder said the consortium is reaching out to rural areas by holding meetings and inviting residents and businesses to discuss their Internet service needs.

One recent meeting was held in Applegate in late October. Snyder said that the need for speed on the Web is becoming as important as traditional services such as water and electricity. Applegate, located off Interstate 80, has a population of about 3,000 people. It also has 85 licensed businesses, according to Placer County records.

“A percentage of those are home-based and they’re as important as the brick-and-mortar business down on the corner,” Snyder said. “One of the reasons we’re involved is because it’s essential today.”

In Applegate, the consortium heard from residents unhappy with their Internet service or looking for ways to make it better.

“(Applegate) seems to have been dropped into a black hole when it comes to Internet services,” Applegate resident Kenneth Wilson said in an e-mail to the Journal. “Many have extremely limited service, making the Internet barely useable in this day and age.”

At Applegate Garage, owner Zach Ashton said he uses a computer at his workplace and tolerates the slowness of the Internet. Unlike some businesses, Applegate Garage doesn’t depend on the Web for transactions, however, he said.

“I’m used to living with it – it’s part of living in the foothills,” Ashton said. “Cell reception isn’t that good either. If I could get twice the speed at a comparable price, I’d be interested. But if it’s twice the speed at twice the price, I wouldn’t be.”

Mary George, Placer County Director of Library Services, said that the Applegate library – and its parking area – has become a destination for residents because of the availability of high-speed Wi-Fi.

The library’s free Wi-Fi, which the county has a contract for system wide, starts up at 7:30 a.m. and shuts down at 8:30 p.m. The library, itself, is open 20 hours a week. As a result, people are parking next to the library before it opens and after it closes to use Web-based electronic devices.

 “People are in the parking lot quite often and we don’t turn it off because the demand is there,” George said.

The Wi-Fi hours are limited to the daytime, however, because the county doesn’t want night-time activity near the building, she said.

George, a Colfax resident, said she feels the Colfax community is excited to have higher-speed Internet access. The demand grows as the population thins out as Interstate 80 travels to the northeast into the Sierra and fewer services are available, she said.

“We seem to have everything we want in South Placer but it decreases as you move along I-80 and up,” George said.