The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors heard a presentation from the Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast (BCPC) on Tuesday regarding the development of a broadband strategic plan that would increase connectivity across the county.
Broadband, in the simplest terms, refers to the data transmission process that enables high-speed internet. According to the 2020 California Broadband Infrastructure Report Card, Santa Barbara County scored a D-, meaning that the county “meets the minimum service standard” determined by the Central Coast Broadband Consortium and the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership.
As a result of the county’s low broadband infrastructure rating, the BCPC proposed Tuesday that the Board of Supervisors utilize American Rescue Plan Act funding to pay for the development of a strategic plan, which would outline ways to expand broadband infrastructure in the county.
Bill Simmons, the representative from BCPC who is leading the strategic plan development, told Supervisors Tuesday that the plan would build upon a broadband project that is underway in North County.
Currently, the Santa Ynez Valley Band of Chumash Indians is in the process of acquiring grants to expand the North County fiber ring, which would use fiber-optic cables to expand connectivity from the South County up through the North County and the Chumash reservation. The development of this plan came after the Chumash completed a broadband strategy and feasibility study in Santa Ynez in July 2021, which was funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
According to Mr. Simmons, creating a fiber ring is one of the “best practices” for broadband expansion, and deploying this method would increase connectivity in the Chumash reservation and the Santa Ynez Valley.
“Having the redundant fiber from the North (county) and the South (county) is really imperative,” Mr. Simmons told the Board Tuesday. “What is really required is to take this kind of thinking, this kind of dialogue and regionalize it — not make this a pocket, but really make this a county-wide initiative, a county-wide conversation and a county-wide undertaking.”
To develop the strategic plan, officials from BCPC say they will spearhead efforts to communicate with stakeholders and community partners about what should be included in the strategic plan. By communicating with stakeholders, the agency said it hopes to align broadband efforts in the North and South counties, expand infrastructure for distance learning, social services, public safety and hospitals, and create an “equitable, integrated response to a broad cross-section of community needs.”
In order to continue the development of the strategic plan, the county would need to invest about $200,000, which would pay for a portion of the total cost of the plan. The remaining costs would be paid through private funding and by other stakeholder cities. Officials from BCPC said Tuesday they hope to return in six to nine months for plan approval and adopt the plan in the fiscal year 2022-2023.
The County Executive Office determined that this project is eligible for a portion of the $43.3 million in ARPA funding that the county received if the Supervisors would choose to move forward with plan development.
While multiple Supervisors expressed interest in the broadband plan on Tuesday, the project is one of several county projects eligible for ARPA funding. The board will discuss these projects in the weeks leading up to Oct. 19, which is when supervisors will officially vote on what projects will receive ARPA funding from the board.