South Lake Tahoe Focuses on Broadband for All


SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — As the city of South Lake Tahoe grows and attempts to develop new economies, officials are focused on improving broadband access for all residents and businesses.

The pandemic has highlighted the need for high-speed access, but the prevalence of internet access began to rise long before everyone was locked at home.

A 2021 Pew Research The fact sheet showed that in 2000 only about 50% of Americans used the internet compared to 93% of Americans who used it in 2020.

Centers for Disease Control listed access to broadband as one of their social determinants of health, which are “the conditions in the places where people live, learn, work and play that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes. health “.

The City is no exception to recognizing the importance of broadband. The City’s strategic plan, which council approved in March 2021, ranked the built environment as a top priority.

Bullet 1.1 under the built environment provides broadband for all and states that the city’s goal is to “connect the community through high-speed internet to meet the needs of local businesses, residents and attract remote workers into the region. Develop a broadband infrastructure deployment plan that identifies fiber hubs, last mile transit, relay points, and redundancy. The City should explore innovative broadband models (eg community co-op, municipality) and funding opportunities to implement projects. The City will provide access (broadband and devices) to underserved communities. »

Before the city can provide broadband to everyone, it needs to take stock of what it currently has. The American Rescue Plan Act provided $400,000 to be used for broadband and the board approved $200,000 of that amount to be used for a feasibility study.

“The contract will be for the development of a broadband master plan for us. We have broadband in the city, but what we want to do with this study is really validate what we have,” said Anush Nejad, Director of Public Works. “The goal is to provide low-cost, affordable broadband for everyone, including residents and businesses. What we need to do first is make an assessment of what we have.

The feasibility study will consist of a speed test followed by an assessment of what needs to be done next. It will also include public outreach, as well as outreach to internet service providers to find the fastest speeds at the lowest costs.

The City contracts with private ISPs, such as Spectrum and AT&T, all of which provide their own conduit system consisting of underground cables, overhead cables and Wifi. The study will look at these providers and decide if the city is getting the best possible service.

“That’s what the study will show, what do we need to do in terms of improving the service, if that’s necessary,” Nejad said. “I guess so, we need to upgrade the infrastructure.”

While the feasibility study will highlight the specific needs of South Lake Tahoe, a basin-wide study by the Tahoe Prosperity Center showed that the basin lags significantly behind cities like San Francisco for upload and download speeds.

“In underserved areas of the Tahoe Basin, download speeds are less than 6 Mbps and upload speed is 1.5 Mbps, per the California Public Utilities Commission’s definition of minimum speeds. Average broadband speeds in San Francisco are 75.92 Mbps down and 25.70 Mbps up,” the TPC website says.

Upgrading the infrastructure could mean increasing the size of the cables and connecting them to the regional system.

Connecting to the regional system is another action item of the Strategic Plan. El Dorado County provides access to much of the region, but not within the city limits.

The county worked with NeoConnect, which is a broadband consultant, to secure federal grants. El Dorado County approached the city to work together to seek grants.

“El Dorado County cares about South Lake Tahoe, they clearly see us as a partner, they have areas, towards Camp Richardson, where they would like to get broadband, so they brought this idea to us,” said Joe Irvin, city manager.

The plan is to extend the midstream broadband section, which is the physical fiber optic infrastructure needed to enable internet connectivity, all the way along Highway 89 from Lake Tahoe Airport to the Spring Creek Tract, then on US Highway 50 to Stateline.

The project estimate is approximately $6 million and requires a 20% match, or $1.2 million. The board took 94% of the game and the county contributed the rest.

They are also working with the Tahoe Prosperity Center to avoid layoffs, as well as with Caltrans, since the project falls under their control.

The middle mile will connect to the regional network, such as the US 395 network, and the feasibility study will examine connecting the middle mile to residents and business gates. Thus, both aspects of the project are necessary to provide broadband to all.

Coincidentally, financing for the middle mile project is expected to be secured in six months and the feasibility study is also expected to be completed in six months.

While getting the cables to the doors is important, Nejad said the feasibility study and master plan developed after the study will look at what technologies are available and what combination of technologies can achieve fast speeds at low cost.

Council is expected to approve a contract with a consultant for the study on May 3. Over the next six months, the City will host several workshops to discuss broadband. These dates have not yet been set.


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