County prepares to hold broadband providers accountable

It doesn’t have to be this way. No broadband for new customers, slow and choppy service for those that have it; the current broadband situation for much of Mono County has been getting worse every month now for half a year.

Yes, Digital 395 will go a long way toward fixing that problem, but that’s only a part of the bigger issue … and that’s where local control can kick in. The bottom line is that even after Digital 395 puts in its giant, high speed broadband cable, the digital info it carries still has to get to every individual house, business, school, and hospital.

Normally, a provider like Verizon or Suddenlink or Schat, competes to provide that “last mile” service, then installs the infrastructure. But as local residents have found out recently, that doesn’t ensure customers will actually get what they need, or even, what they pay for.

That’s about to change. Last Tuesday, county officials agreed it was time to get more deeply involved in regulating new broadband provider franchise agreements. Customer service, terms of service; these things and more can be written into a policy that will apply toward any agreement between the county and a ISP provider, county officials told the Mono County Board of Supervisors.

The Board directed the county staff to begin working on such a policy and agreed to assign a staff person to the issue. They got some help from a former Mammoth Lakes marketing director, Dana Stroud. She’s also currently a member of a new group in town, Eastern Sierra Connect.

“We can act a facilitator between the county and the provider and we have access to some state grant money that might be of help toward getting some of the infrastructure we need in place,” Stroud said. She said Eastern Sierra Connect has been in place since late last year. It was created as a consortium of interested users; in this case Inyo, Mono and eastern Kern counties. The group has a direct line of connection to the state’s Public Utilities Commission, a source of potential grant money.

Stroud said that between the new policies that the county can create for providers and Eastern Sierra Connect’s access to grants and information, the Eastern Sierra will be able to catch up to other more urban areas in providing a consistent level of broadband service.

“We are behind the curve, for sure,” she said. “But with these resources, we will be able to catch up.”