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Rural California Farms Need Fiber to be Fertile

In yet another reminder that fiber optics and wireless are complementary, not substitutes, we just read about rural California farms needing better telecommunications that the big companies have refused to provide.

This article offers a good introduction to why farms need access to the Internet. Modern farming takes advantage of gains in communications technology -- when it can and is not hobbled by a lack of modern infrastructure. For example:

An even more efficient use of water, said Bryon Horn, is to put moisture sensors into the soil beneath individual trees, like olives and almonds, so that each tree gets exactly the right amount of moisture. But that requires something that the valley lacks: wireless connectivity. In fact, even commercial cellphone coverage in the area is spotty.

...

But doing so has been difficult. The larger telcos, she said, are not interested, and a consultant representing smaller telecommunications companies told Hogg and other officials that the large telcos make it almost impossible to expand to underserved areas. To buy wholesale Internet access from AT&T in the Salinas area, the consultant said, costs $136 per megabit per month compared to 50 cents per megabit per month in the city of Sunnyvale. [emphasis ours]

Wireless works best where it has access to abundant wired connectivity. Just like plants need water, wireless towers need fiber to backhaul the data. Having AT&T as your only option is bad news. AT&T exists to make profits, not provide essential services at affordable rates. This is precisely why we argue that residents and businesses must have some voice in the telecom networks upon which they depend -- they are too important to entrust to massive corporations like AT&T or Comcast.

The public built the roads that allow these farmers to get their crops to market and it ensured that they were connected to the electric grid. Despite entirely too many subsidies, the large providers have not only failed to offer a modern connection but are actually hindering others from doing it. It is time to stop subsidizing those companies and embrace the benefits of ownership by cooperatives or local governments that are locally accountable.

From what we can tell, some in the San Joaquin Valley Regional Broadband Consortium get it and are trying to solve this problem for good. Smart public investments can do that -- finding ways of funnelling more money to monopolists will not.

Photo courtesy of David Dixon, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons.

Provo's Publicly Owned Broadband Network Attracts 98 Jobs

Fresno's loss will be Provo's gain. Why? Because Provo built its own network and can meet the modern telecommunications needs of businesses. A company is moving from Clovis, in Fresno County (California), to Provo, Utah. The Business Journal covered the story:

Clovis-based Secure Customer Relations, Inc., plans to move its entire operation to Provo, Utah this month, resulting in the loss of 98 jobs.

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Secure Customer Relations operates a call center that specializes in appointment setting, client prospecting and other functions on behalf of the insurance industry.

Overall, the cost of operations in Provo would be a savings over Clovis, Carter said, including labor costs. He added that Clovis does not have the same level of fiber optic infrastructure as Provo.

Interestingly, Clovis is slated to get better access to broadband as part of the stimulus-funded Central Valley Next-Generation Broadband Infrastructure Project. Unfortunately, that is one of them any middle mile projects that will connect community anchors but not offer any immediate benefits to local businesses and residents. It is a middle mile project, not a last-mile project that would build a fiber-optic access network like Provo has connecting everyone.

This is not to demean the middle-mile project, but such things are often misunderstood (sometimes due to deliberate obfuscations by those promoting them).

And speaking of obfuscation, the Economic Development Corporation of Utah apparently wants the Utah state government to take credit for this company moving to Provo.

"We move a lot of data and need high capacity," CEO Carter Beck told the Journal last week. His company specializes in appointment setting, client prospecting and other functions on behalf of the insurance industry.

The relocation of companies like Secure Customer Relations, Inc. to Utah reaffirms the conclusions of a Utah Broadband Advisory Council Report released last week by the Utah Broadband Project and the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED) -- that Utah is attracting businesses due to the state's exceptional level of high-speed internet access and communications infrastructure.

EDCU Logo

The discussion about what Utah has done to improve broadband is superfluous. Comcast, CenturyLink, and other major providers are not doing anything special in Utah. CenturyLink has cornered the low-price, slow speed subscribers and Comcast is available for most of those who simply have no other choice for a faster connection. It is Provo and a number of other Utah towns that have built next-generation networks, over the opposition of the state and incumbent providers.

Earlier this week, we posted an interview with UTOPIA and XMission, which provides service on UTOPIA (and CenturyLink, where allowed to). It is UTOPIA and the iProvo network that have boosted Utah's broadband reputation because they offer the fastest connections in the state.

In fact, the state has actively hindered the fastest networks by subjecting them to onerous regulations that do not apply to the big carriers like Comcast and CenturyLink. Why? Because Comcast and CenturyLink make a lot of campaign contributions and employ many lobbyists to cripple potential competition to their services.

If Utah actually wants to encourage jobs in areas not served by iProvo and UTOPIA, it should remove the restrictions that have crippled publicly owned networks. The vast majority of community networks have had more success than iProvo and UTOPIA, and part of the reason is that Comcast and CenturyLink have created an atmosphere of hostility in the culture and the Legislature to sabotge their efforts.

Provo and UTOPIA have been widely critiqued for significant cost overruns and a failure to sign up enough subscribers. Nonetheless, they are making positive contributions to the community, which go ignored by critics that are more interested in attacking anything the government does rather than a proper analysis of whether the private sector alone is suited to run this essential infrastructure.