Building Better Broadband: We Just Need Your Speed!

SBC is working to improve broadband infrastructure in the Sierra Nevada (something we’re extemely excited about!), but before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s back up a moment. What is broadband, anyway? The textbook answer is this: broadband is telecommunication in which a wide band of frequencies is available to transmit information. In other words: high-speed internet. High-speed internet access is essential for the smooth running of many operations, including electronic medical records, fire and emergency response, agriculture irrigation, retail transactions, and education. Schools are jumping on board with cloud-based technologies in the classrooms. E-learning means access to lectures and information without being in the class; easier collaboration on group projects; and turning in homework assignments without having to physically be in the classroom. Sorry, kids, no more “I left my homework at home” excuses. High-speed internet is no longer frivolous. It’s essential.

downieville hi resAccording to a 2017 survey, 31 percent of Californians do not have high-speed internet and a computer at home. Recently, Sierra Business Council took on management of the Gold Country Broadband Consortium (GCBC), which includes Alpine, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, and Sierra counties. The Consortium’s mission is to identify and support strategic broadband investments and collaborate with local leaders, governments, citizens, and stakeholders to enable the building of infrastructure and broadband networks necessary to create dependable, convenient, and affordable broadband internet connections in the Gold Country Consortium’s designated communities. We are currently working on a Broadband Strategic Plan that includes:

  • Working with existing Internet Service Providers to expand into the unserved and underserved areas
  • Empowering citizens to find their voice and campaign for broadband services
  • Empowering businesses through appropriate avenues to implement broadband

One of GCBC’s projects is to fill in the gaps in the California Broadband Coverage Map, which will help us identify underserved areas. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission established a standard for advanced telecommunications, raising minimum download speeds from 4Mbps to 25Mbps, and the minimum upload speeds from 1Mbps to 3Mbps. Although this is an improvement from older standards, it is still minimal compared to what an average household is now using when you add up the users and individual devices per household. A few key findings from the 2016 Broadband Progress Report include:

  • 10 percent of all Americans (34 million people) lack access to 25Mbps/3Mbps service.
  • 39 percent of rural Americans (23 million people) lack access to 25Mbps/3Mbps.
  • By contrast, only 4 percent of urban Americans lack access to 25Mbps/3Mbps broadband.
  • The availability of fixed terrestrial services in rural America continues to lag behind urban America at all speeds: 20 percent lack access even to service at 4Mbps/1Mbps, down only 1 percent from 2011, and 31 percent lack access to 10Mbps/1Mbps, down only 4 percent from 2011.

We need your speed! If you live in the counties of Alpine, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, or Sierra, you can help us by taking a simple speed test on your computers at home and at work. Take the test a few different times throughout the day, as internet speeds vary at different times of the day. The speed test is at or a direct link at There is also a short survey on the page to give us a better idea of your specific needs.

You can also help expand broadband coverage in our rural areas by becoming involved with local campaigns, knowing the issues at hand, and using your voice by contacting your representatives. This is no longer simply about streaming our favorite shows, gaming sessions, or shopping online. Broadband has become a necessity in our daily lives as it relates to health and safety, education, and economic development. We need to advocate for better connectivity in our communities and work towards closing the digital divide.