By Cornelia de Bruin
Triplicate staff writer
Kim Schmidt and other local businessmen want modem cowboys to ride the technological highway nothing less than the county's future as they see it.
They're stickin' to that story, and working hard to make it happen.
Schmidt, director of Tri-Agency Economic Development Corporation hired Informatics Consulting Services owner John Irwin to undertake the second phase of a research project keyed to finding the solution to lack of broadband in Del Norte County.
"Del Norte is taking the lead with this, but we're working with Curry and Humboldt counties," said Schmidt. "This is the dot-com in HAS199.com the reason I was hired."
HAS199.com is an acronym for the highest priority projects identified by the Council of Economic Advisors and later adopted by the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority.
Needs are the same in both counties: telemedicine, distance learning attracting Internet Technologies businesses and competitive pricing.
Charter and Verizon are the most-used broadband providers. Broadband is available, but not in such scale as to provide what's called a "redundant system."
Last month, high winds severed a fiberoptic cable in Humboldt County, knocking out Internet, long-distance and some cellular service for 15 hours.
Blessedly, however, the outage came just after the huge holiday retail season Dec. 26. Had it been otherwise, some retailers in that county estimate losses may have topped $1 million.
Tri-Agency is spearheading the telecommunications research effort.
Irwin, who retired after 35 years in the corporate world, rides the info highway every day from his rural Central Point, Ore. home. He sees a quickly changing world.
"A lot of areas will be going through some major paradigm shifts, he said. "Telecommunications is the central nervous system of the global economy, if you can't participate, you fall way behind."
Jay Freeman and Chris Howard voice the same concern. Freeman is a past president of Crescent City-Del Norte Chamber of Commerce, a job Howard holds now.
" We need a working economy to develop infrastructure," said Freeman. "When businesses can grow, taxes will be generated."
Humboldt State University researchers working with Del Norte County's Physician Recruitment and Retainment Committee stress the need for medical telecommunications telemedicine. Humboldt County also is researching telecommunications solutions.
Irwin sent similar surveys to Del Norte and Curry County businesses recently.
"For us to have a fiberoptic loop, we need to do this together," said Marlyn Schafer, Curry County Commission chairwoman.
She's contacted Oregon congressional offices for their help at the federal level. Details aren't available yet, as word of her request has not yet reached the Washington, D.C., offices, according to Anne Warden, press contact for Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who represents Curry County.
Both counties hope the Oregon group, along with Del Norte's Mike Thompson of the First Congressional District, can drive a herd of D.C. greenbacks home to the region's corral.
Although Caltrans is funding Del Norte County's effort through the county's Local Transportation Commission, other monies can be tapped at the same time.
Schafer wants the delegation to bring home federal funds she said are already set aside for telecommunications and its related infrastructure.
"North Curry County has no broadband connection, and Gold Beach is about half-served," said Susan Brown, director of Curry County's Economic and Community Development organization.
Contracting with both Curry and Del Norte counties, Irwin recently mailed hundreds of surveys to businesses. When he tallies results, his scope of work will expand.
As Schmidt puts it, "We might be hitching our wagons north, although we have good relations with Humboldt County."
Del Norte and Curry counties, whose Internet users get their telecommunications services from Charter and Verizon, know that their third option, GTE, dead-ends in Humboldt County.
Humboldt County brings one big advantage to the table, however: The only two members of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's recently appointed 21-member Broadband Task Force who represent rural counties live there.
They are Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond, and Humboldt Area Foundation Executive Director Peter Pennekamp.
Del Norte County Board of Supervisors Chairman David Finigan didn't make the cut for the committee. Richmond said he'll probably be part of a related work group.
What is HAS199.com?
The highest priority projects identified by the Council of Economic Advisors and later adopted by Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority comprise the acronym. Its initials represent:
HAS Harbor, airport, sewer and wastewater
199 U.S. Hwy. 199, State Hwy. 197
.com Teletransportation and telecommunications