Broadband project promises jobs, economic development and better connectivity

Sam Williams
News Editor


Lassen and Plumas county residents as well as large users and governmental agencies could enjoy improved Internet and cable television service

“A major goal of the project is to create jobs and boost the economy by allowing existing businesses to expand while attracting new businesses to the region … We believe that access to affordable broadband is a crucial component to arresting the loss of jobs and population in the region.”
Bob Marshall, General Manager, Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative

once the Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative installs a new fiber optic cable system. And hopefully, the new system should also contribute to the local economy by providing more jobs.

Plumas-Sierra’s General Manager Bob Marshall appeared at the Lassen County Board of Supervisors Tuesday, March 22 meeting to provide information on the project to the supervisors.

“We are a true electric co-op,” Marshall told the board, “which means we don’t just supply power, we’re dedicated to the quality of life of our member owners, and part of that is economic development.”

A lack of broadband services leaves Northeastern California behind, Marshall said, and given that deficiency, the cooperative sought partners to seek the grant to install the much-needed fiber optic system. Marshall noted the importance of high-speed broadband connections as he described his attendance at a recent conference.

“What stunned me was every single device and product uses broadband,” Marshall said, “including Schlage and Yale locks. They’re now Internet-enabled, and you can open and close your locks via the Internet. Every device you have in your house now, literally getting down to the refrigerator, is Internet-enabled and everything assumes every house has 10 megabits per second of cheap broadband, which may be true in Sacramento and Roseville, but isn’t exactly true in our region.”

Marshall said the cooperative’s telecommunications subsidiary has been providing services since 1987 and has been frustrated by its inability to obtain the underlying broadband capacity from other providers, especially for customers in Plumas County.

According to Marshall’s presentation, the cooperative and 18 other key telecommunications users banded together in 2009 to seek an American Reinvestment and Recovery Grant administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency inside the Federal Commerce Department.

What is broadband fiber optic service?
The term broadband refers to a communications network in which the bandwidth can be divided and shared by multiple simultaneous signals such as voice, data or video.
The term fiber optic cable means a bundle of thin, flexible, transparent glass fibers that act as a waveguide, or light pipe to transmit light between the two ends of the fiber.
Fiber optic broadband service makes it possible to access the Internet at unbelievable speeds, and at the same time provide broadband television programming.
Fiber optic systems not only improve productivity and communications capabilities, they provide a new option for entertainment, as well. A fiber optic system offers new and better services, more productivity on the Internet and expanded entertainment choices.
Unlike current high-speed broadband services that transmit data over copper or coaxial cable, fiber optic networks operate over glass fiber transmission lines designed for optimum speed and capacity. And the amazing thing is all of this happens because laser generated pulses of light send data along hair-thin strands of glass fiber at the speed of light.
What makes fiber optic technology better?
Speed — Faster transmission with the capability of going up into the gigabits.
Bandwidth — A larger capacity for carrying information.
Distance — Signals transmit farther without a need for refreshing.
Less interference — A fiber optic system has greater resistance to external interference.
Reduced maintenance — Fiber optic cables cost much less to maintain.
Versatility — Fiber optic cables can handle massive amounts of voice, video and data traffic.
This information was obtained from

Key users in the local project include anchor tenants, Internet service providers, economic development entities and local government, and Marshall named some of the consortium’s participants, — Lassen Community College, Susanville Indian Rancheria, Windjammer Cable TV, High Desert State Prison, Sierra Army Depot and the Lassen County Office of Education.

Marshall said the cooperative learned last August it had been awarded a $13.7 million grant to build the fiber optic system from Reno to Susanville and Quincy. The cooperative also received a matching $1.7 million grant from the California Advanced Citizen Fund for the project.

The new broadband project will run along Highway 395 from Reno to Hallelujah Junction. From there it will ride on the cooperative’s transmission lines to the two state prisons and then follow the Lassen Municipal Utility District Honey Lake Power line into Susanville. Another spur would run to Herlong, serving Lassen County’s Local Reuse Authority properties in the south county and SIAD.

Another spur will run west along the cooperative’s lines to serve Portola, Quincy and Loyalton.

No final decision has been made about how the lines will run in the city of Susanville, Marshall said.

Marshall said the cooperative would not provide services to customers outside its service area, but Windjammer Cable and Frontier Communications could compete to offer services in Susanville and Lassen County.

While the system will provide improved connectivity and service, one of the project’s ultimate goals is economic development.

“A major goal of the project is to create jobs and boost the economy by allowing existing businesses to expand while attracting new businesses to the region,” Marshall wrote in his presentation to the supervisors. “Completion of the project will allow for businesses, households and key community institutions to have access to higher data usage at a lower cost. We believe that access to affordable broadband is a crucial component to arresting the loss of jobs and population in the region.”

Northeastern California lags behind the rest of country because it’s not connected to modern, high-speed, fiber optic communications systems, especially backhaul connections. Backhaul refers to the connection between the Internet sources and the service providers.

“The driver for the project is a lack of telecommunications backhaul facilities to provide cost-effective abundant broadband,” Marshall wrote. “This communication deficiency causes a weakness in the northeastern corner of California that adversely affects progress, jobs and the local economy. In some areas covered by the grant there are no more facilities available. In other areas, there are some facilities but not enough backhaul and not enough competition to drive costs down.”

Marshall said the system could be completely installed and operational by

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