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One of these days, the Digital 395 project will be completed.
It might take a year to get the big, fat Internet broadband pipe working at top efficiencyâmaybe even a little bit longer than that.
But when more high-speed access becomes available to Eastern Sierra residents and businesses, the question is if people will be ready to take advantage of it.
An exhaustive new study by the Sierra Business Council (SBC), presented to the Mammoth Lakes Town Council and Mono County Board of Supervisors this week, suggests the time is now for Eastside businesses and individuals to begin mapping their digital strategies.
To fail in creating a digital strategy would be a failure to take advantage of âthe single most important opportunity to expand sales, profits and employment in rural small businesses in decades,â the report stated.
âThis issue of how high-speed communications is actually going to affect small businesses is critical,â said Mayor Pro Tem Rick Wood from the dais during the council meeting Wednesday.
âThis is a wave that is going to sweep across the nation over the next 20 to 30 years, and if we donât start getting a handle on it now, itâs really going to be devastating for small businesses.â
The authors of the 175-page report, using data and observations from 80 individuals on the Eastside and called âEastern Sierra: Innovation and Prosperity,â said many people wouldnât recognize the digital opportunity if it came up and bit them in the foot.
âLack of economic diversification has been an underlying economic issue in Inyo and Mono counties for many decades,â the report stated.
âOne bad winter, one closed road or one failed industry can have a disproportionate impact on a rural community.
âBoth counties continue to lag behind historic growth in the State of California and often behave counter to state growth and industry trends.
âThe decline of natural resource industries has also left these two counties vulnerable to economic shock from a decline in any single sector.â
Later, the SBCâs Steve Frisch, who presented the report, said another historical factor hindering economic growth has been the absence of research universities to help inform, study and guide the local area.
To examine the overall economic picture, the authors divided the Mono and Inyo economies into five economic âprosperity clusters.â
The clusters are interrelated. Growth in any one cluster encourages growth in the others.
At the center of the stage is Internet technology, which would affect the other four clusters of renewable energy, tourism and the arts, recreation, and agriculture.
âWhat higher speed service does exist is spotty and inconsistent, suffering numerous outages or isolation events,â the authors wrote in the report.
âAs a result, broadband adoption rates are very low on the east side, compared to the rest of the State of Californiaâonly about 14 percent compared to more than 50 percent statewide.
âIn addition, because broadband adoption rates are higher for higher income individuals and businesses, the âdigital divideâ often leaves those in lower socioeconomic categories behind as the digital economy develops.â
The result has had a deadening effect, the report stated.
âThis condition leaves Eastside businesses and community assets isolated from access to national and global markets, and travelers isolated from real time digital information about the region.
âConnectivity has become so much a part of modern life that many families or business people will not even consider traveling to a region that does not offer access to high-speed communications.â
The authors of the report said the Digital 395 project would go a long way toward solving the most vexing problem: access.
In addition, the report suggested there are quantifiable projections of what Digital 395 might mean in the near future.
First, the report suggests 500 new jobs would open immediately related to the installation of the broadband infrastructure.
Moreover, it would expand entrepreneurial platforms for new businesses and expand medical, educational, commercial and military applications.
But there is little time to waste, even a year out, the report suggested.
âThe primary recommendation is to immediately embark on a regional e-commerce development and deployment strategy with the goal of boosting market access and increasing the revenue for small businesses and community assets.â
The report included a variety of government and private resources for helping businesses develop digital strategies, all aimed at creating a digital business environment that would fall in line with the rest of the U.S. and global economies.