Bridging the Digital Divide: Surfnet’s Participation in MBEP’s Summit Paves the Way for Inclusive Broadband Access
In the heart of the diverse and vibrant Monterey Bay region, the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP) recently hosted a pivotal broadband summit. This event spotlighted the pressing digital disparities plaguing the area, particularly in rural regions, and outlined the critical importance of affordable, reliable internet access. MBEP’s Broadband and Digital Equity Initiative advocates for a multi-sector approach to address infrastructure, awareness, and access challenges.
Recommendations span infrastructure advancements, awareness-raising, and adoption-promoting policies. The summit also introduced flexible technology strategies to bridge the digital divide. Broadband access is now an urgent necessity for education, healthcare, and economic opportunities, and MBEP, a regional nonprofit, plays a central role in these transformative efforts. Among the distinguished panelists, COO Ken Nye of Surfnet, a renowned expert in the field, lent his invaluable insights and expertise, further underscoring the significance of the summit’s mission. MBEP, a regional nonprofit, plays a central role in these transformative efforts.
Angela Curro, Supervisor of San Benito County; Alex Zheng, Deputy CIO of Monterey County; and Monica Quida, Business and Development Initiatives at Comcast, were also among the esteemed panelists, contributing their wealth of knowledge and experience to enrich the summit’s discussions.
Below are the questions David Witkowski, Executive Director of Joint Venture’s Wireless Communications Initiative asked the panelists along with Ken Nye’s answers:
David Witkowski: “What are the top two challenges facing the region within the next 2 years?”
Ken Nye: “We are primarily in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the biggest challenge we face is reaching the last person because you may only have one person per mile, but these folks still need broadband.”
Ken Nye: “The second challenge is ensuring sustainability, as we saw during last year’s storms that just broke everything. We had to rebuild from the ground up, so we need sustainability to make sure that people continue to have broadband. It takes a lot of money and a lot of know-how to get to those remote places that need broadband. It’s easy to do in the city, but it’s hard to do in rural areas. That is what the FFA grants and other grants are designed to do—to get to the people who are left on the sidelines. The big guys like AT&T go after the cities, but the rural people are left by the wayside, so we at Surfnet are trying to fill that gap.”
David Witkowski: “How do you resolve the issues of staffing, connecting to resources, physical terrain, environmental compliance, and last-mile density? What are one or two things that we can do as a region?”
Ken Nye: “Mapping is a big issue when you look at different grants and CPUC. They have different maps for different things. The local guys having the maps together could be a big thing, so I think working together with the Cruzios and the Comcasts and not stomping on each other is a big part of getting the final picture together. I work with James at Cruzio a lot to make sure that when we look at who needs broadband, we work together and we aim to get everybody at the end of the road.”
Ken Nye: “It’s also important to work with the government and the CPUC to get the funds because we all agree that the reason these people don’t have internet right now is because it’s not feasibly, monetarily, or economically possible. Companies are not going to go out there and run fiber for a mile down the road to get two people connected and not get a return on their investment for 20 years. Therefore, working with the government to get these funds is important. We are working closely with the CPUC so that at the end of the day after all these funds are depleted, everybody has internet access. That is what we all want, and that is what we are all working towards.”
David Witkowski: “What if any experiences have you had with state-level interactions? Have you done any micro-trenching? How will broadband affect the state’s roadway systems?”
Ken Nye: “We haven’t done micro trenching yet. The California state middle mile is going to run down the highways, and they are talking about putting two, four-inch conduits down the highway, and then they are going to micro-trench after that. So microtrenching is done on the lower level. It’s a different beast. The state comes down, and they are going to put handholds every 1/4 mile, and then Surfnet will come into those handholds and try to get off of them. I have a feeling it’s going to be a combination of micro-tuning and aerial. In the mountains, where you have canyons, You are not going to micro-trench, but when we can, we will, and it’s going to be better because it’s going to be fireproof, earthquake-proof, and better all around.”
Below are questions brought forth by the members of the audience:
Question from an audience member: “What’s the barrier to getting a well-done map of what our broadband needs within our state and our region, and what does that map need to look like?”
Ken Nye: “The answer is that we need to collaborate and get the real people in the room to get the real maps, but it’s hard because it’s such a local level. The government is at a high level, and if you look at the Central Coast, we are just a pin on the federal level. What happens here is what happens all across the US, and when the government looks at the map, they see a wide swath. It’s really about getting collectively collaborative people working together to sift the information up and get the right information, and that is a very hard thing to do.”
Question from an audience member: “What about problems with staffing? There is a significant lack of fiber splicers that would be necessary to do all the work that needs to be done. Can you address this issue?”
Ken Nye: “We have trouble hiring folks that can do the installation. So it takes a while to find someone with the mindset to do what we do because no college course teaches how to install fiber.
Question from an audience member: “What about addressing issues of being in a broadband dead zone?”
Ken Nye: “It’s important to work with the government and to get them to recognize that you are in a dead zone, and that goes back to the mapping and stating you are in a dead zone, and to be able to find out how we can work together with the Comcasts, the Cruzios, and the ATT’s to get you the reliable service you need.”
By Aracelly Bibl