Access to high-speed Internet is hard to come by in many foothill communities, but with fiber lines now running through Calaveras County and innovative entrepreneurs expanding their businesses, both large and small businesses are sure to get a boost.
One such business, which upgraded to high-speed Internet about 10 months ago, has already seen a huge increase in sales.
Charlie Anderson, owner of Anderson Tree Farm in Murphys, grows Christmas trees and builds handcrafted live-edge wood furniture. He used to have DSL, “but there was a lot of stuff that wouldn’t work. We were just a little too far out.”
“With high-speed Internet, I could do more online,” Anderson said. “It opened up my ability to work from home. I registered my business on Google Maps, so when people search for Christmas trees, my farm shows up.”
That decision alone prompted customers from Stockton and Modesto to visit Anderson’s farm who “never knew I existed before.”
“What ended up happening was I sold out my 200-tree quota for a year much faster than normal,” he said. “Usually I sell until Christmas Eve but last year I was sold out by Dec. 9.”
Not only is high-speed Internet a boon to business, it’s key to the decision-making process of families looking to relocate to the foothills.
“I’ve lost sales because the property didn’t have access to high-speed Internet,” said Bill Schmiett, owner of Mountain Ranch Realty. “That’s how important it is. It’s like power and water.”
He said the majority of people looking to buy property in Calaveras come from a place where high-speed Internet is ubiquitous, adding “it’s an expectation.”
High-speed Internet is provided to Schmiett’s business by Ron Mobley, owner of REM Net Communications, who uses a microwave link from the Valley and distributes the signal to customers throughout the Mountain Ranch area.
“Everyone realizes Internet connectivity is not the fax machine of the 21st century,” Mobley said. “It’s the electricity of the 21st century. Because if you don’t have an Internet connection, you’re not in business, or you shouldn’t be in business.”
Schmiett agrees, “I would be out of business if I didn’t have high-speed Internet.”
The definition of what high-speed Internet actually is has changed over the years, according to Darrell Slocum, representative for Central Sierra Connect, which is a grant-funded program working to expand broadband connectivity in the Mother Lode.
“The definition of high-speed is being able to use the Internet the way people commonly use the Internet,” Slocum said, adding people’s eyes tend to glaze over when specific numbers are used.
The program’s long-term goal is to make broadband available to all rural communities in the foothills.
Slocum began working for CSC in February and is focusing on informing and educating the community on existing broadband infrastructure and access.
“It wasn’t long ago when I wouldn’t even think about streaming a video or downloading a video online,” he said. “Now people are doing that on a routine basis. How do you keep up with that demand?”
Though it’s challenging to meet the needs of an evolving Internet user, those needs are key.
“Broadband availability is absolutely necessary to have a successful economic program. Without it your community will be left behind,” according to Larry Cope, Tuolumne County economic development director.
One Calaveras-based company working hard to provide high-speed Internet to those who are off the main grid is Hstar Technology Group, owned by Tim Hildebrandt.
Brandon Towne, lead technician for HTG, said the company is now serving clients from Angels Camp to Avery.
“We have more than 100 customers and about 20 sub-towers across the county,” he said. “We take Internet from a commercial backhaul (intermediate link between a core network and smaller sub networks) and send it out through radios over the air. Speeds vary, but it’s better than satellite and dialup and we don’t have caps for how much customers can download.”
Towne said the business is “exploding” as more and more people are signing up for high-speed Internet in remote locations. Since the signal is transmitted wirelessly, customers living in remote locations can be served as long as their property is within range of a sub-tower.
“A lot of people want to move up to an area like this, but they didn’t before because they thought they couldn’t run their business off of dialup,” he said.
Last year, fiber cable was laid throughout Calaveras County, which will hook up schools and libraries to extremely high-speed Internet.
“The fiber is the fastest Internet in the world,” he said. “For something like that to come through our county is incredible. Before the end of this year, we should be able to tap into that. The fact that it’s coming through here, shows we are ready for the modern world and we’re not just some small community.
“I like the saying, ‘Think globally, act locally,’” he continued. “Having fiber through the county will allow us to do that.”
Take a regional broadband survey by visiting tceda.net/2012-2013-regional-broadband-survey.