Inyo Launches 21st Century Obsidian Fiber Network Project

  • Digital 395
INDEPENDENCE, CA — Last week, the County of Inyo issued a Request for Proposals looking for a partner to design, construct and operate a County-owned, open access, fiber-to-the-premise gigabit network that will serve every building and parcel in the Owens Valley and select neighboring communities.

The 21st Century Obsidian Project
As a communications network that will be publicly-owned and open to every local, regional and national Internet service provider, the County expects the project to deliver Digital 395’s state-of-the-art technology to every home and business in the Owens Valley at affordable rates. If it succeeds, the 21st Century Obsidian Project will bolster the county’s economy by helping local businesses better use technology to retain customers and expand services while, hopefully, attracting technology firms and entrepreneurs to the area.

“We’ve all heard of Google communities and gigabit communities,” said Brandon Shults, the County’s information services director and architect of the RFP, “well, we want to create a gigabit district.” In fact, Google is among the local, regional and national companies to which County has sent a copy of the RFP and invited a response.

The RFP is open to anyone and available on the County website.

Leveraging the Digital 395 Middle-mile Conduit
The Request For Proposals notes that, prior to summer 2013, citizens and businesses in the Owens Valley of Inyo County had little to no broadband access. The successful completion of the ambitious American Reinvestment and Recovery Act project, Digital 395, equipped the Owens Valley with a middle-mile broadband conduit capable of providing practically limitless broadband capacity for generations.

The County now intends to leverage that capacity, overseeing contracted design, construction and operation of Open Access, last-mile fiber-optic connections between all premises in the Owens Valley and the Digital 395 middle-mile conduit creating one of the few true Gigabit districts in the Country.

Local ISPs Slow to Invest
So far, some local Internet service providers have been slow to make the investment necessary to fully connect Digital 395 to local businesses and residences and create a final mile network capable of capturing all the power and benefits of Digital 395. Shults explained, “Instead of connecting to Digital 395 with a fire hose, most homes and businesses in our communities have been connected with a garden hose, and some communities with not so much as a straw.”

“With County ownership and oversight,” County CAO Kevin Carunchio said, “we hope we can accomplish something similar to what’s happening in Kansas City...no, not losing the World Series to the San Francisco Giants [Carunchio is a huge Giants fan]...but where every home and business can get 100 megabytes of Internet service for less than $80 a month.”

The project timeline contemplates the County having a contractor on Board by this coming January. With designs and associated construction costs in hand, the County and contractor will be analyzing the best ways to fund the projects, with an emphasis on grant funding similar to what was used to construct Digital 395.

Once funding is secured—something the RFP envisions could happen in phases—the contractor will begin installing the final mile network. The contractor will operate the network on behalf of the County, and the network will be open for use by all Internet services providers.

Why name the effort The 21st Century Obsidian Project? As Brandon Shults explained, “In prehistoric times, obsidian was a prized commodity of indigenous people who commonly fashioned it into tools conducive to survival including knives, spear points, fishing hooks, sewing needles and arrowheads. Archeological studies suggest that as early as 11,000 years ago trade in obsidian was significant to the Owens Valley economy. Modern fiber-optic cables are fashioned from glass and known as “dark fiber;” in other words, it’s dark glass. The irony is not lost that in this new, modern-day, data-driven economy, dark glass may once again contribute significantly to the survival of the Owens Valley economy.”

Inyo County has structured the project process to allow other local governments, notably the City of Bishop, tribal reservations in the Valley, and even Mono County, to participate in the 21st Century Obsidian Project once the County has selected its contractor. These other local governments also have the option of developing their own final mile projects.

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