Ann Johnson-Stromberg/The Times-Standard
Article Launched:12/02/2006 04:31:50 AM PST

A month ago Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ended the public battle with Caltrans over fee barriers to broadband deployment and now the North Coast's position on the front lines of the fight are paying off.

The governor has appointed 21 people to his broadband task force and the only two appointees from rural areas in California were from Humboldt County. Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond and Humboldt Area Foundation Executive Director Peter Pennekamp were on this list released by the governor's office late Thursday.

The task force was created to get public and private stakeholders in broadband to collaborate on how to maximize and further broadband access and deployment in California. Pennekamp said that he considers this an incredible opportunity for the North Coast and was honored to be chosen.

”When they called me, personally I was slightly uncomfortable because there are probably 100 people more up to speed on this,” he said. “But I think the main point is that the issues that we face on the North Coast are the issues that rural California as a whole faces.”

After nearly a three-year fight with Caltrans over fees to lay a fiber optic line along a 21-mile stretch

of public roads between Pepperwood and Miranda, SBC (now AT&T) paid $1.4 million in fees and completed construction in November of 2003. In April, the Times-Standard informed readers that Caltrans was in the process raising those fees, practically stomping on any hopes that the North Coast would be able to finance another project to bring in a redundant fiber optic connection. Schwarzenegger put a halt to the excessive right-of-way fees last month and announced a new cost-based fee structure. State officials said that the hope is that by building up broadband infrastructure, economic benefits will follow.

Gregg Foster, executive director of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission and board president for the Redwood Technology Consortium, said that Humboldt representation on the task force is a welcome development.

”I think we have some unique issues here that need to be addressed at a state level, in particular the need for redundancy, sort of a more robust network than our single fiber optic line,” Foster said, explaining that he is concerned about what a natural disaster could do to the region in terms of cutting off communications access. “I am pleased we have two people appointed from here because we want to make sure that issue is considered.”

Richmond was unavailable for comment by deadline.
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