The Long Road to High-Speed Internet in Rural Sonoma County
Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Tom West | November 20, 2016
For most Californians, getting high-speed internet at home takes about a week. You figure out which company provides broadband and at what cost, make an appointment for service installation and get connected.
But in rural Sonoma County, that process has taken 500 residents along Joy Road four years — and the reasons have everything to do with the high cost of broadband infrastructure and the way telecom companies avoid providing high-speed internet service in sparsely populated areas.
Although the greater Joy Road area will soon get broadband, thanks to a $7.7 million infrastructure grant from the state Public Utilities Commission’s California Advanced Services Fund, the story of Sonoma County’s “Gigafy Occidental” project is typical of what rural residents face throughout the state. It is also an allegory about the need to subsidize high-speed internet infrastructure in rural areas.
In September 2012, residents of Joy Road — a beautiful redwood-dotted area southwest of Occidental — met to discuss their high-speed internet problems. Concern was growing that because it was impossible to download or upload documents for work or school, people were moving out and home values were dropping.
The residents, who became known as Connect Joy Road Area, launched a two-pronged attack: one on the area’s internet service providers, which had been avoiding broadband service requests; and one on the California Public Utilities Commission, which reported that the Joy Road area already had high-speed internet service.
You might ask: Why would the CPUC claim such a thing? Answer: Because its maps are based on faulty data reported by the large telecom providers.