Digital 395: California company wants to include Carson City in fiber optic network

Courtesy of the California Broadband CooperativeThis map shows the area that will be connected by the Digital 395 project.

Courtesy of the California Broadband CooperativeThis map shows the area that will be connected by the Digital 395 project.

A California company has plans to include Carson City in a 583-mile-long fiber optic network that includes nearly three dozen communities between Barstow, Calif., and Reno in an effort to expand access to broadband Internet in the region.

While construction hasn't started yet, and developers on the project - known as Digital 395 - are still obtaining environmental permits, work could start as early as August. The fiber optic cable would follow along the U.S. 395 corridor and link up to telecommunication service providers that have a hub in Reno.

Michael Ort, the chief executive officer of Praxis Associates, Inc., the construction and engineering firm overseeing the $100 million project, said the primary beneficiaries will be public institutions like schools, hospitals and libraries, which could play a role in Carson City's proposed downtown redevelopment project.

Ort said the network will be available to Internet service providers such as AT&T and Charter Communications, which could mean savings and faster Internet speeds for customers.

"This is really about economic development," Ort said.

The fiber optic cable network will offer a core speed of 10 gigabytes per second and Internet speeds for end users as high as 100 megabytes per second.

While no formal presentation has gone before the Board of Supervisors in Carson City, John Wilkinson, the information technology director for Carson City, said the city has been in talks with the project's developers since late last year.

Wilkinson said the city is already planning on installing conduit for fiber optic cable in trenches dug for a water project along Robinson Street this year. He said if the city decides the Digital 395 project is feasible, the project's fiber optic network could run through that route and on into Reno.

"I don't think this is going to be a problem, but this is going to be contingent on them truly being a non-profit," Wilkinson said.

One of the benefits of the Digital 395 project, Wilkinson said, would be connecting Carson City via Barstow to the hub in Los Angeles that houses hundreds of international service providers - it's one of three along the West Coast.

And even if the Digital 395 project doesn't work out, Wilkinson said the city has been working with the state to potentially expand its fiber optic network into Reno, though it would only be for government institutions and not for private consumption.

Steve Neighbors, one of the primary proponents of the City Center Project and president of the Carson Nugget, said Digital 395 could play a role in the downtown redevelopment - which includes a digital media studio and library - but would not elaborate until more details emerge.

Wilkinson said, "If the project happens we'll be able to use the conduit we're putting in to provide access to (the City Center Project)."

The Digital 395 project is being financed by $81 million in federal stimulus funds plus another $20 million from the state of California, according to federal government records and Ort. It was one of 150 federal grants awarded from the $7.2 billion set aside in the 2009 stimulus bill to expand Internet access in rural areas.

So far the project has created about 30 jobs, according to federal government's website that tracks stimulus projects. But once construction starts, "We're anticipating it will produce up to 1,100 jobs," Ort said.

The cable itself is about three-quarters of an inch in diameter and contains more than 400 strands of fiber optic cable. Fiber optic cables basically send large amounts of information at the speed of light and provides the route through which the world's digital information travels.

A network of these cables covers the planet and vary in size and speed, the largest traversing entire continents and oceans like an interstate highway system for the Internet.

The cable planed for Digital 395, "may not be one of the big interstate routes, it will be certainly one of the major routes," Ort said.

Ort's company, Praxis Associates, is part of the California Broadband Cooperative, which includes the Nevada Department of Transportation, Caltrans, and Inyo Networks, Inc., the company responsible for managing the business operations of the network.

The cooperative, which is a certified telephone carrier, will be regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, according to the Digital 395 website.

So far, the network will serve 47 K-12 schools, two universities, 13 libraries, two community colleges, 15 health care facilities and 104 government offices. Also, an estimated 26,000 homes and 2,500 businesses and six Indian reservations will have access to broadband Internet because of the project.

"We're adding up an important link to that spider web," Ort said.


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