RAW: Digital 395 crosses another hurdle

Another major step has been achieved in the Digital 395 Broadband Project. On Monday, May 7, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the lead environmental agency for the project, issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) under the National Environmental Policy Act, completing one of the key steps for the 583-mile long fiber project through the Eastern Sierra. The project spans the desert and alpine regions between Barstow California on the south and Reno Nevada in the north with many service connections to schools, hospitals, government agencies and other critical facilities along the way. When it is complete, very high levels of broadband will be made available to over 35 communities, most of which have either no or very poor access to the internet today. The permit means the 583-mile fiber optic project is moving closer to breaking ground in the next 30 days.
The NTIA's permit will compliment a major California permit issued by the California Public Utility Commission's (CPUC) last November, under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Together, these permits allow many of the local agencies, such as the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Caltrans and the Nevada Department of Transportation to proceed with their steps to issue permits for their lands. In general, all permits must be in accordance with each other so that they can be consistently managed by the project.
"The project is closer to a reality as a result of this permit," said Robert Volker, CEO of California Broadband Cooperative (CBC), the company who was awarded grants from the CPUC and NTIA, "and it looks like broadband and more jobs will be coming soon for the Eastern Sierra."
Michael Ort, CEO for Praxis Associates, the company responsible for its execution, said, "Our team and vendors have been anxiously awaiting this news. Our materials are on hand, our equipment is ready, and we want to get at it. The local residents have seen our engineers and huge reels of cable rolling along Highway 395, now they are going to be seeing folks back to work, putting it in the ground."
Since the timeframes are so compressed for the project, there are four parallel activities that will be underway: a handful of small buildings called "nodes" will be strategically installed in towns along the route to regenerate the optical signals on the fiber, conduit will be installed along the main route, cables will be laid in the towns, and the 300 or so service locations will be wired up. The project is aimed at connecting schools, medical facilities, public safety buildings, and various governmental agencies. Private residents and businesses will benefit from retailers who will tie into Digital 395 to get faster, lower-cost broadband. "The public will see activities all along the route," Ort said. "We will be working initially in Nevada to make our connections there in concert with activities closer to Barstow. However, we should quickly see more activity in Mono County, so we can beat the winter snows."
In case you think that trucks will be rolling this week, there are still several agencies that need to complete their work approving other permits. In total, over 45 permitting agencies were involved in overseeing the approvals: protecting animals, plants, historical and cultural sites, maintaining water quality, and generally assuring that the project follows federal, state and local regulations. "We still need to close off some final requirements with the US Forest Service, BLM, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, several tribal lands, and with agencies concerned with the cultural heritage of the area," Ort said, "but the agencies are supporting the effort and are moving things along. They have to make sure all their requirements are met."
The project is slated for completion at the end of July 2013.
About CBC: 
CBC - California Broadband Cooperative, Inc. is a not-for-profit California 501(c)(12) Telecommunication Cooperative Corporation formed for the purposes of owning and operating the Digital 395 network, which will provide high-speed broadband services to its members on a wholesale, open-access basis. As a cooperative, the organization will be under the direction of a Board of Directors representing key institutions and constituents in the Eastern Sierra. For more information, please contact Robert Volker at rvolker@digital395.com
About Praxis Associates: 
Praxis is a fiber optic network development company that specializes in developing complete broadband solutions. Praxis specialties include business case development, grants applications and administration, Rights-of-Way and Permits, local and long-haul engineering, project management and fiber construction. Praxis clients include large-scale telecommunications firms, companies and communities developing private networks, and governmental entities. Praxis is managing the Digital 395 Project on behalf of CBC. Praxis corporate offices are located in Vallejo, California with several regional offices in the project area. For more information, please contact Michael Ort at mort@praxisfiber.com