Mono County: Some living in the land of the unconnected

By Deb Murphy

Inyo County has developed a plan for the final mile of Digital 395 in the Obsidian Project, but some areas of Mono County, just 400 feet off a trunk line, are still living in the land of the unconnected.

Roland Rock is one of those Hammil Valley residents doomed to drive to Bishop to log on. Lee Vining is another community scratched from a grant funded project; Long Valley, Paradise, Swall Meadows, a whole raft of communities within spitting distance of U.S. 395 are still in various stages of not-really-connected.

Rock’s the guy 400-feet from a trunk line. To make matters worse, assuming he wants to make contact with the world, cell phone service leaves a lot to be desired. “Bishop is a long distance call,” he said. “When it rains we have no phone service.”

Maybe folks who choose to live in rural areas do so to avoid too much contact with the rest of the world. But more and more forms of communications have morphed to an “e-version,” leaving Rock and his neighbors more cut-off than they ever

Race Communications received grant funding to connect residents along Hwy. 6, from Chalfant Valley to Benton, but chose not to include Hammil Valley, according to Mono County Supervisor Fred Stump.

The grant funding administered by the California Public Utility Commission originates from the Advanced Services Fund added to state utility bills, said Stump. The federal government also provides grant funding for broadband infrastructure.

The grants provide 70-percent of the cost of the infrastructure to bring high speed Internet service to un- or under-served communities. Lee Vining was knocked off a grant application by the CPUC, because it was under- rather than un-served.

Another grant went to connect Bridgeport and Walker, but not Coleville despite the fact it’s difficult to figure out where Walker stops and Coleville starts.

Robert Wullenjohn, CPUC’s manager of broadband policy and analysis branch, explained a potential hang-up in getting Rock connected. “It’s not how far from the trunk line,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s how far you are from a point of interconnection.”

For those who try to understand new technology in terms of old technology, connecting to a fiberoptic trunk line is nothing like cutting an irrigation line and sticking in a “T.”

The connections, Wullenjohn said, is done at spaced-out vaults along the line.

“Our goal is to serve everyone,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of California’s population lives in 5-percent of the state.”

Providers are going after the low-hanging fruit. The 5-percent living in 95-percent of California are pretty high up in the tree.

These pockets of unconnected Mono County are a source of frustration for Stump. While there are a number of options, cheaper than fiberoptics according to Wullenjohn, including wireless signals, the bottom line is finding a provider willing to buy a chunk of space on the super highway, connect to the end user and sell the service. It’s what they call a failure in the economy of scale where there is little scale.

Mono County leased the old Chalfant landfill as the site for a tower for wireless, but no provider has stepped up.

The homeowners in Devil’s Gate Summit near Bridgeport formed their own non-profit consortium to buy space on the broadband at wholesale. “Those citizens were very motivated,” Stump said. “It works, they have service, but it’s expensive.”

Stump is critical of major providers like Verizon and AT&T for failing to upgrade services in Mono County. Steps to upgrade infrastructure have not been taken, leaving parts of the county in the lasat century.

“The County continues to advocate for full inclusion in future grants,” he said. “We’ve got the trunk line there, we just need somebody to use it.”

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7 Responses to Mono County: Some living in the land of the unconnected

  1. Vanadium Cat August 24, 2016 at 3:30 pm #

    There isn’t high speed internet in Rovana either, though the cable is about a mile-and-a-half away. the question is, who is going to pay the cost for that last distance?

    The feds footed the bill for the fiber optics — and I understand there is a lot of military traffic on the cable — but how to pay for the last stretch? Is it a public good and a necessity to have the connection, like something that will contribute to the overall economy? Or is it a purely private good which should be paid by the individual, like a hamburger?

  2. CitySissy August 24, 2016 at 6:30 am #

    How misleading. Please expand the truth about Mr. Rock driving to Bishop to run a business and the internet being an excuse in the article. Mr. Rock should move back to the city or; move his business to where he lives, but there wouldn’t be enough traffic for such an investment. Yet, the same dichotomy exists for potential providers of both cellular and internet service, yet are asked to overlook what an individual would not in such an investment.

    • Boone Doogle August 25, 2016 at 3:15 pm #

      Thank you Mr. Jones.

      I was responding to the following statement in the article:

      “Stump is critical of major providers like Verizon and AT & T [who manifest the free market] for failing to upgrade services in Mono County.”

      In my view, our elected public leaders caused this by failing to ensure funding for last mile infrastructure as a condition of Praxis’s receipt of the federal Obama dollars and California PUC moneys it used to build Digital 395.

      But that was when everyone was drinking the Digital 395 Kool-Aid.


  3. Boone Doogle August 24, 2016 at 5:53 am #

    What part of capitalism and the free market does Supervisor Stump not get?

    Digital 395 had to be built with state and federal (i.e., public) money because it didn’t “pencil-out” for the for-profit telecommunications providers to build it.

    But Digital 395 did not change the fact that there are simply not enough customers in many parts of Inyo and Mono County to make it profitable for an internet provider to install even the “last mile” infrastructure necessary to provide service to those areas.

    I know it must rankle him, but the free market does not operate according to the government’s dictates.

    And where has Michael Ort and Praxis gone? I guess, like the Steve Miller song, he/it took the money and run.


    • Charles O. Jones August 25, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

      Similar criticisms were made about the FO line and about cell service over the years. Well the trunk line is now complete despite the naysayers of a decade ago. And cell service has noticeably improved in many areas despite the fact that our population hasn’t grown significantly. Somebody has to be the squeaky wheel. It seems that Supervisor Stump is doing exactly what he should be doing, advocating on behalf the citizens he represents. I don’t see how that makes him unaware of the free market or the economy of scale. I’m glad to see local representatives pushing for these improvements. Cuz it ain’t gonna get done by the make-believe names in the internet forums.


  4. Paradisian August 23, 2016 at 8:29 pm #

    Still waiting for high speed internet in Paradise… We’re not any closer now than when the trunk line was completed almost three years ago. Very disappointing, especially after all the hoopla…

  5. Trouble August 23, 2016 at 3:02 pm #

    Great article Deb! It would have taken me a month to gather all the information and facts you provided here. Just wanted to say thanks!


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