Frequently Asked Questions
- Why is this important?
Glad you asked. High infrastructure costs have discouraged Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from expanding into many rural areas, leaving pockets of unserved or underserved residents. This came into sharp focus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tuolumne County, like other areas in the country, suddenly had areas where parents, kids and seniors needed high-speed internet but couldn't get it.
The state and federal governments identified these problems and began funding broadband infrastructure in rural areas. Funding was included in COVID-19 relief legislation and, more recently, in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This funding is primarily allocated to local governments through the state based on the number of residents and businesses with available service speeds of less than 25 Mbps. But that need is consistently under-reported by ISPs and each mistake could mean a loss of up to $4,200 in grant funding.
The County needs your input to prove where who needs service. You can help by checking your service or by testing your mobile service with the FCC Speed Test app so the County can work with the FCC to correct the data.
- How can I help?
There are two important actions you can take. Check your existing service (what ISPs claim to offer) and let us know if it differs from what is available to you. Then download the FCC Speed Test app and routinely test your internet service.
- What qualifies as high-speed internet?
A location is considered "unserved" if the fastest available speed is less than 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. A location is considered "underserved" if the fastest available speed is less that 100 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up. Many grants require new infrastructure to achieve minimum speeds of 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload, sometimes called “100 Mbps symmetrical.” That's enough to simultaneously participate on multiple video calls and download streaming video on multiple devices.
- What does Mbps mean?
Mbps (megabits per second) are units of measurement for network bandwidth and illustrate how fast a network or internet connection is. A bit is the smallest measure of binary data, either a single 0 or 1. A megabit is 1 million bits. The measure of Mbps is how many millions of bits a network can theoretically transfer each second.
- Does connection speed matter?
Absolutely. Internet access is critical infrastructure. During the pandemic, that became more apparent than ever as children attended virtual lessons, remote work became more prevalent and telehealth became the first line of service for many. Additionally, high speed internet has been proven to increase economic development and boost local economies.
- What are the expected speeds of a fiber network?
100 Mbps symmetrical is the minimum required for new connections under most grants. But the easiest way to achieve this is with fiber optic cable, and the majority of state and federal projects are focused on fiber infrastructure. Fiber can reach speeds of 1,000 Mbps symmetrical and has the potential to be a better long-term investment.
- Am I guaranteed to get internet service that is that fast?
No. Your address is considered "served" if available speeds are 100 Mbps down and 25 Mbps up. In that case, your service will likely remain the same unless other improvements affect your network. Residents should check the service at their address.
- Who is going to get faster service?
The priority population is unserved residents and business but we expect some funds to be available to address underserved areas as well.
- Doesn’t this create a gap in services?
Possibly. While the County hopes to vastly improve broadband coverage, ISPs are responsible to address connection speeds on infrastructure they own. The County encourages improvements but does not mandate changes on private infrastructure.
- Are there other forms of broadband service?
There are several available in the county.
Line-of-sight services: Internet is beamed from a tower directly to an antenna on your house
- Can regularly provide 100 Mbps symmetrical service.
- Trees and mountains can block the signal.
- It's too expensive to extend cable or fiber to specific addresses to fill in gaps.
- As the number of signals increase, so does the opportunity for interference, which could someday create a ceiling to the technology.
Mobile internet services (e.g. cell phone service)
- Mobile transmissions can go through trees and can provide better coverage.
- Some 5G cell networks can theoretically provide high-speed internet but in practice, they often don't reach 100 Mbps symmetrical service.
- Speeds could improve with new technology but that may take years to see.
Hybrid systems: Internet beamed from one tower to another connected to homes by cable or fiber
- Some of these systems already exist in Tuolumne County and can be effective.
- Limits to the signal between towers, limit what is available in homes.
- Tower infrastructure would need to improve to deliver 100 Mbps throughout the county.
- Traditional satellites (HugesNet, DirecTV, etc,.) have been unable to provide high-speed internet and are usually a last resort.
- Low-orbit satellites (Starlink) have proved capable of providing high speeds but cannot currently provide 100 Mbps symmetrical service and recently announced data caps.
- Low-orbit satellite infrastructure is promising but is in it's infancy and needs to expand before it can keep up with extensive demand, which could take several years.
- Are any projects underway?
Yes. The Broadband Projects page is updated as work progresses so that we can provide transparency to the process.
- I represent an ISP, who should I contact?
We have a special page just for partners. It's currently a work in progress but we hope to provide information about the permitting process and a guide to working with the County.
- Who’s working on this?
The effort spans across multiple County departments, including Administration, IT, Community Development, Public Works and more – each doing their part to contribute to various projects. The County is part of a regional consortium to pool resources and strengthen our negotiation position. Stakeholders of all types, including community members and business, Tribes, non-profits, ISPs and others will partner with the County as well.