Live Wire Newsletter


February 2012

How will D395 change things?

Long before the Internet was ever imagined, our telecommunications technology was built on a network of copper wiring that ran aerially and underground, connecting communities like Lone Pine and Gardnerville via phone lines. When the Internet arrived, it required more information capacity than the old wiring could manage. A fiber optic cable was laid from Victorville to Bridgeport in the late 1980s that promised more powerful signals for telephone communication, and eventually for the growing demands of the increasingly popular World Wide Web.

The fiber cable was stronger than the old copper wiring that had to be replaced regularly as it degraded because of temperature extremes, precipitation and other forces. But the fiber that was originally laid allowed for limited amounts of data that could be transmitted in a fixed amount of time – a factor known as bandwidth. As the Web continued to grow, more bandwidth was needed in Barstow and Gardnerville, and communities between and beyond.

For residents along U.S. Highway 395, high-speed Internet is still just a dream, but Digital 395 is making it a reality.

“Right now we have limited bandwidth,” says Dave Arndal, Senior Outside Plant Engineer for Praxis Associates “This project will create an abundance of bandwidth for Verizon, Suddenlink and other last-mile customers.”

By that, Arndal means Digital 395 will provide “middle mile” capability – a backbone of fiber optic capability into which local service providers can tap. “It will create a big bandwidth pipeline to access the Internet at a cheaper rate than what exists now,” Arndal says.

Aside from faster Internet speeds, people will notice better cell phone coverage with fiber optic service to cell sites along the route. The network will allow an upgrade from 3G to 4G cell service, which is an advantage for smartphone users who depend on their phones for voice and data access like email, media streaming and downloading, and web browsing.

The 4G revolution in service is coming, and it will increase download speeds from 10 to 100 times. Thankfully, users along the Eastern Sierra will be able to access the speeds when the time comes.

Arndal is eager to point out that, along with faster speeds, true mobility is also the wave of the future when it comes to telecommunications.

“I see an increasingly wireless future,” says Arndal. He points out that the old copper wiring, built as long ago as the 1950s, is what typically runs out to households along the route. “It’s often too expensive to replace that with fiber optics.

“No doubt many technologies – wireless, copper, coaxial and fiber - will contribute to the last-mile solution.”

A slow and steady creature worth protecting

It’s ironic that the slow-moving Mojave desert tortoise would represent everything that’s right about the Digital 395 high-speed broadband project. The elusive, endangered reptile, which spends most of its life underground, is responsible for a focused effort by the California Broadband Cooperative to protect it, while at the same time the CBC builds an underground network that extends across some of the creature’s habitat.

How do these two efforts coexist?

“It’s important for us to get our job done and also to protect the environment,” said Michael Ort, CEO of Praxis Assoc., the company that is managing the Digital 395 project on behalf of CBC. “In doing so, we go by a whole set of guidelines laid out for us by various agencies. And in the end, we hope to leave the area better off than before we were there.”

The tortoise is listed as “threatened” by a few of those agencies, namely the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game, and is thus protected under the Endangered Species Act. It is also the official state reptile of both California and Nevada.

This credentialed creature has been threatened by the U.S. Army, by potential landfill projects and wind/solar farms, by urbanization, vandalism and invasive plants, ravens, Gila monsters and fire ants, to name a few.

Of course, its natural predators cannot and should not be mitigated. But human-powered projects can and should find ways of protecting the Mojave desert tortoise, whose populations in some areas of the Southwestern states have declined by as much as 90 percent since the 1980s.

The CBC is working diligently with several agencies and groups to ensure the utmost safety and sensitivity to the surrounding desert tortoise population, according to CBC Principal Environmental Coordinator Kevin Hostert.

“We’re in direct consultation with federal and state agencies, including the Desert Tortoise Preservation Committee, to help ensure there will be no impact to the desert tortoise or its associated habitat and food sources,” Hostert says.

But what does that mean exactly? Here are the steps being taken to minimize impact to this important species:

And since it is unlawful to touch, harm, harass or collect it, the fencing will go a long way in protecting the tenacious tortoise, which grows to about a foot long and can live 80 to 100 years in the wild.

Crews at the construction sites this summer will be struggling in the heat of the desert, where ground temperatures can exceed 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but the Mojave desert tortoise is able to burrow underground because of its sharp claw-like, flat front limbs designed for digging. It likes the softer alluvial fans and washes found in the southern portion of the Digital 395 project area, and occupies habitat from Barstow to the tiny town of Johannesburg in San Bernardino County.

The tortoise is likely to be found wading dangerously into the shade of excavation vehicles, and accidents do happen, says Ort of Praxis. “That’s why monitors will be standing by. People who are trained to handle the tortoise.”

Ort is hopeful that Digital 395 will help reduce motor vehicle traffic all along U.S. Highway 395, thereby cutting down on emissions and road kill. “And there also may be a long-term benefit when people are able to take advantage of the technology that high-speed broadband brings to them, as they discover video conferencing and other ways to bring people virtually together,” says Ort. “Tortoise habitat will be safer if there are fewer vehicles. It’s what we’re doing to leave something better behind.”

A beneficial and abundant technological resource

It’s not a popular video gaming title, but it sure sounds like it could be, or at least another in a long list of end-of-the-world Hollywood blockbusters. But “Dark Fiber” has nothing to do with the apocalypse. It is in fact all about a vibrant and fluid technological future, and refers to untold miles of fiber optic cable currently laying dormant across the developed world that can be put to use to serve imminent telecommunications demands.

Most of the unused cable running back and forth across the United States was placed in the late 1990s during the Internet boom that marshaled in what would become huge end-user enterprises like Google, Amazon and eBay. Telecommunications companies invested heavily in fiber optics technology with big expectations of a future economy built on ubiquitous broadband access. Some telecoms went bankrupt, having overextended their resources by putting supply above demand.

Of course, the Internet bubble burst, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of miles of unused fiber optics – dark fiber.

What’s being done with all that fiber? The oversupply has driven prices down. Companies moving large amounts of data, such as banking institutions, that used to lease “lit” cable (active fiber) are now lighting up wholesale dark fiber to create their own private networks. The abundance of dark fiber is making it possible for educational and research-based groups to afford their own networks.

As the future unfolds, Digital 395 will make available virtually unlimited amounts of dark fiber in our network as we lay hundreds of miles of conduit along our backbone and to our distribution sites. However this dark fiber is to be used in the time ahead, it is unquestionable that it will provide exciting possibilities in terms of dedicated network capability.

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