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Placer County, Calif. advances broadband strategy through the aid of ARPA funding

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    Placer County, Calif. advances broadband strategy through the aid of ARPA funding

    Rural broadband advocacy is a top priority for Placer County as a means of closing the gap in the digital divide for their residence. The Northern California county’s broadband plan is designed to create economic opportunity through a connected county strategy. In a recent statement, Placer County Chief Information Officer Jarret Thiessen said, “The county has been tirelessly advocating for the expansion and improvement of broadband services on behalf of its residents, especially those in our rural communities.”

    The vital importance of broadband connectivity became abundantly clear at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when many citizens found themselves working from home or going to school online. Those without adequate broadband service found themselves at a distinct disadvantage and in Placer County this primarily impacted the region’s rural communities. The emphasis of broadband as critical infrastructure for all was accentuated in the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Placer County capitalized on the opportunity the stimulus efforts afforded by allocating $10 million of its $78 million ARPA grant funding to broadband improvement.

    While grant funding will go far in helping the county meet its broadband goals, the leadership recognized that building out broadband infrastructure to cover over 400,000 residents spread across 1,052 square miles of mountainous terrain would require careful and considerate planning to help maximize efforts. The county turned to GIS to better understand coverage, gaps in service and to make a positive impact on vulnerable populations.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic it was very clear that the digital divide was greater than it appeared and the need for quality broadband became a national priority. Children could not do their homework due to a lack of basic internet and elderly citizens had difficulty getting access to care with many healthcare services going virtual. Broadband had become a tool that provided for basic human connection in society and those individuals that did not have access were put at a disadvantage.

    Interestingly, when the county began evaluating the existing network, they realized there was not enough data to identify the extent of the service divide and service gap location information was lacking. The Placer County information’s systems team decided to begin mapping existing provider networks in relationship to underserved and unserved residents and businesses. The county recognized the need to balance their planning by seeking input through a public survey to further identify at-risk communities. GIS was viewed as an essential part of their strategy to map not only the infrastructure but the actual survey results.

    Addressing Broadband Is Placer’s Key to Sustainable Infrastructure

    Placer has always accepted GIS as a foundational tool. They have solved many challenges like addressing homelessness in the county with GIS, so broadband was the next challenge and they were ready with the geospatial infrastructure to address it.

    Phil Salter, GIS Manager at Placer County said, “We have the tools in GIS for data collection, and broadband design framework. We see GIS as a vehicle to visualize things we need to know like existing providers in the county and even community demographics.”

    Whether the needs were from residential homes or businesses, the team at Placer County wanted to know more specifics on broadband service quality to better support the business community and provide internet access to students and people working from home. This level of community engagement would allow them to collect more detailed information from residents and businesses that would give them a clear picture of their community’s needs.

    Dieter Wittenberg, Information Technology Telecom Manager responsible for overseeing broadband efforts at Placer County said, “Solving for accuracy in planning was a critical component of our approach. For us, it starts with geospatial data. We must see and understand the magnitude of the issue, know where those issues are and ultimately, try to determine an equitable distribution across our rural districts.”

    GIS Comes into Action

    To start to develop a more holistic understanding of their community, Salter determined the GIS work would include a two-step process. First, they needed to crowdsource additional data and gain insight then feed this information to dashboards that decision-makers could use to better allocate resources and determine priorities. To hear directly from the community, Salter launched a survey tool using ArcGIS Survey123 that asked residents questions like:

    • What is your service address?
    • Who is your current internet service provider at this address?
    • What is your current download speed?
    • How would you rate your internet consistency?
    • Do you experience outages or slowdowns?

    These questions allowed the team to better understand and visualize who was affected by poor connectivity, who was in need of greater reliability, etc. The data from the survey was then displayed via an ArcGIS dashboard that allows the county to compare service levels of businesses vs. residents, understand the balance of the different providers in the county and identify areas where service is lacking. Empowered with this information, decision makers can now direct broadband expansion activities in the areas that need it most through data-driven analysis of coverage areas.

    Placer County rolled out its 2021 Last Mile Broadband Grant program to provide resources to new and existing internet service providers to encourage investment into building broadband infrastructure that supports economic development, public safety, remote learning, telehealth services and overall community prosperity in Placer County. The county continues to seek grant opportunities for rural broadband programs at the federal and state levels with the intent to deploy new grant opportunities for broadband infrastructure improvements in the future. GIS was an essential part of this strategy.

    What’s Next for Placer County 

    Placer County is in the beginning stages of implementing their broadband initiative plan. While they are working to collect data and understand their needs, they are looking into things like how they can cross-collaborate across departments. For example, they are looking to find a mechanism rooted in GIS to coordinate construction with other capital projects while upgrading their current broadband. They hope to be able to take data from the transportation team and identify parts of the county with private roads vs. public infrastructure and this information will help prioritize the roll out of modifications to existing infrastructure. For Placer County, GIS is a foundational tool that plays a part in the county’s vision. Early on, they understood the foundational role GIS could serve in their broadband project. They were able to improve decision-making, more accurately place resources, increase cross-department coordination and continue to advance their initiative to address sustainable broadband.

    Rural broadband advocacy is a top priority for Placer County as a means of closing the gap in the digital divide for their residence.
    2022-01-25
    Blog
    2022-01-26
GIS helps manage Placer County, Calif. program for maximum impact

Rural broadband advocacy is a top priority for Placer County as a means of closing the gap in the digital divide for their residence. The Northern California county’s broadband plan is designed to create economic opportunity through a connected county strategy. In a recent statement, Placer County Chief Information Officer Jarret Thiessen said, “The county has been tirelessly advocating for the expansion and improvement of broadband services on behalf of its residents, especially those in our rural communities.”

The vital importance of broadband connectivity became abundantly clear at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when many citizens found themselves working from home or going to school online. Those without adequate broadband service found themselves at a distinct disadvantage and in Placer County this primarily impacted the region’s rural communities. The emphasis of broadband as critical infrastructure for all was accentuated in the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Placer County capitalized on the opportunity the stimulus efforts afforded by allocating $10 million of its $78 million ARPA grant funding to broadband improvement.

While grant funding will go far in helping the county meet its broadband goals, the leadership recognized that building out broadband infrastructure to cover over 400,000 residents spread across 1,052 square miles of mountainous terrain would require careful and considerate planning to help maximize efforts. The county turned to GIS to better understand coverage, gaps in service and to make a positive impact on vulnerable populations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic it was very clear that the digital divide was greater than it appeared and the need for quality broadband became a national priority. Children could not do their homework due to a lack of basic internet and elderly citizens had difficulty getting access to care with many healthcare services going virtual. Broadband had become a tool that provided for basic human connection in society and those individuals that did not have access were put at a disadvantage.

Interestingly, when the county began evaluating the existing network, they realized there was not enough data to identify the extent of the service divide and service gap location information was lacking. The Placer County information’s systems team decided to begin mapping existing provider networks in relationship to underserved and unserved residents and businesses. The county recognized the need to balance their planning by seeking input through a public survey to further identify at-risk communities. GIS was viewed as an essential part of their strategy to map not only the infrastructure but the actual survey results.

Addressing Broadband Is Placer’s Key to Sustainable Infrastructure

Placer has always accepted GIS as a foundational tool. They have solved many challenges like addressing homelessness in the county with GIS, so broadband was the next challenge and they were ready with the geospatial infrastructure to address it.

Phil Salter, GIS Manager at Placer County said, “We have the tools in GIS for data collection, and broadband design framework. We see GIS as a vehicle to visualize things we need to know like existing providers in the county and even community demographics.”

Whether the needs were from residential homes or businesses, the team at Placer County wanted to know more specifics on broadband service quality to better support the business community and provide internet access to students and people working from home. This level of community engagement would allow them to collect more detailed information from residents and businesses that would give them a clear picture of their community’s needs.

Dieter Wittenberg, Information Technology Telecom Manager responsible for overseeing broadband efforts at Placer County said, “Solving for accuracy in planning was a critical component of our approach. For us, it starts with geospatial data. We must see and understand the magnitude of the issue, know where those issues are and ultimately, try to determine an equitable distribution across our rural districts.”

GIS Comes into Action

To start to develop a more holistic understanding of their community, Salter determined the GIS work would include a two-step process. First, they needed to crowdsource additional data and gain insight then feed this information to dashboards that decision-makers could use to better allocate resources and determine priorities. To hear directly from the community, Salter launched a survey tool using ArcGIS Survey123 that asked residents questions like:

  • What is your service address?
  • Who is your current internet service provider at this address?
  • What is your current download speed?
  • How would you rate your internet consistency?
  • Do you experience outages or slowdowns?

These questions allowed the team to better understand and visualize who was affected by poor connectivity, who was in need of greater reliability, etc. The data from the survey was then displayed via an ArcGIS dashboard that allows the county to compare service levels of businesses vs. residents, understand the balance of the different providers in the county and identify areas where service is lacking. Empowered with this information, decision makers can now direct broadband expansion activities in the areas that need it most through data-driven analysis of coverage areas.

Placer County rolled out its 2021 Last Mile Broadband Grant program to provide resources to new and existing internet service providers to encourage investment into building broadband infrastructure that supports economic development, public safety, remote learning, telehealth services and overall community prosperity in Placer County. The county continues to seek grant opportunities for rural broadband programs at the federal and state levels with the intent to deploy new grant opportunities for broadband infrastructure improvements in the future. GIS was an essential part of this strategy.

What’s Next for Placer County 

Placer County is in the beginning stages of implementing their broadband initiative plan. While they are working to collect data and understand their needs, they are looking into things like how they can cross-collaborate across departments. For example, they are looking to find a mechanism rooted in GIS to coordinate construction with other capital projects while upgrading their current broadband. They hope to be able to take data from the transportation team and identify parts of the county with private roads vs. public infrastructure and this information will help prioritize the roll out of modifications to existing infrastructure. For Placer County, GIS is a foundational tool that plays a part in the county’s vision. Early on, they understood the foundational role GIS could serve in their broadband project. They were able to improve decision-making, more accurately place resources, increase cross-department coordination and continue to advance their initiative to address sustainable broadband.

About Christopher Thomas (Full Bio)

Director of Government Markets, Esri

Christopher Thomas is the c for Esri. Christopher has over 30 years of experience working in and with governments around the world in integrating technology into government business processes. He is most noted for his pioneering work in the areas of the adoption and adaptation of technology by governments and citizens alike.

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