At the Tri-Agency Development Authority meeting on Feb. 28, Keith Grunberg, from Charter Business group, in tandem with our broadband consultant John Irwin, made an important announcement with huge implications for the future of Del Norte County and the region as a whole (andquot;Fiber optics link online for area,andquot; March 1).

Charter confirmed the recent corporate decision to devote significant capital investment to complete and extend their andquot;backboneandquot; infrastructure down the southern Oregon coast to Crescent City. This was truly a business-based decision, and a real vote of confidence in Del Norte County and what they agree is a promising future ahead.

Some of this fiber optic capacity already has been in place, but not without gaps that made the system incapable of being fully utilized or andquot;lit upandquot; to the extent that was technically possible - or economically justified. Engineering studies are already underway, and the build out is expected yet this calendar year.

But what does all this really mean? Whereas we have had basic broadband services available to us for some time, this commitment will increase those capabilities many times over, literally opening up a new frontier as to what's possible in the county. It is also indicative of a cross-border and regional approach involving our neighbors to the north, south and east. That will be important to our future in so many ways.

A community's strength, in times past, usually was tied to its location and proximity to transportation links such as railroads, highways, and waterways. In today's world, broadband connectivity joins that list - providing 21st century opportunities for business, education, healthcare, public safety - and plain everyday life.

Alleviating challenges

Enhanced broadband telecommunications really opens up access to the entire global economy. It can -and will - allow more commerce and a greater sophistication of activity, to be conducted right here from Del Norte. Over time, this will alleviate some of the economic challenges and perceptions we face due to our physical isolation by traditional transportation means.

Actually, the chance to live and work in an area known for its natural beauty and quality of life, while at the same time being able to more fully tie into all the internet has to offer - will give us the best of both worlds.

Improved connectivity will provide means by which to better support existing business, as well as put us in another league in terms of how we are viewed by investors, potential new business interest and even visitors to our community.

There is still much to be done, however.

The next step will be for the community to actively work on achieving full fiber andquot;redundancy,andquot; or the closing of the loop as such, which provides back-up protection for broadband connections and thereby eliminating service outages.

This continuity and guarantee of uninterrupted service, taken for granted in most urban areas, is a very important factor for companies in particular. Our having redundancy will play a key role in the extent to which Del Norte County can take advantage of our coming new service levels.

A primary focus will also require devising educational, workforce and economic development strategies that will center on how to best take advantage of our broadband capacity as we move forward.

We must invest in developing and preparing our youth and workforce with the 21st century education and skills to take advantage of the growth in opportunities provided through broadband telecommunications. All sectors of the economy, including manufacturing and professional pursuits, are now tied in closely to the internet. There's no going backwards in time, so the emphasis must be placed on anticipating the future.

The Tri-Agency, with the advisory guidance of the Council of Economic Advisors, has long recognized the critical importance of enhanced broadband capabilities to the future of Del Norte County. It is a key factor in the infrastructure-based economic development focus of andquot;;

What's next

Funding was received via the Local Transportation Commission to conduct a andquot;teletransportationandquot; study as to research this issue in depth. The structure of this study is crafted as to center on Del Norte, but with a deliberate emphasis involving strong regional interaction with Humboldt and Curry counties.

At the Economic Development Summit on Saturday, John Irwin will give a presentation about these new developments, the status of his research and his vision for what the future holds in terms of broadband for Del Norte County.

Kim Schmidt is economic development project director for the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority.