High-speed internet could be coming to some unconnected areas of Yuba-Sutter through a federally-backed program.
An AT&T representative presented an overview this week of how it could use FCC Connect America Fund Phase II money to create eight broadband internet sites in both counties.
AT&T accepted $427 million a year in federal funding to build infrastructure capable of providing 10/1 Mbps broadband service in census blocks where high-speed internet services did not exist. Of that, $60 million will be used in California to provide internet access to more than 141,500 homes and small businesses.
The funding must be used in areas identified by the FCC as census blocks that lack access to infrastructure capable of providing broadband service, AT&T External Affairs Manager Alice Perez told supervisors in both counties.
Wireless internet would be provided through fixed wireless "last-mile" connections between the cell tower and a home receiver on the customer's property.
AT&T plans to install dedicated equipment on its existing cell phone towers, piggy-backing on a third-party cell tower or building a new cell tower with broadband internet capabilities, Perez said. In the latter two situations, the cell towers would include both internet and LTE equipment.
The FCC requires speeds of at least 10/1 Mbps and monthly bandwidth of at least 150 GBs. The cost of the service cannot be more than in urban areas. The national average is $72 a month, but AT&T generally charges about $30 a month, Perez said.
Engineers from AT&T will next meet with county officials to begin the process of getting permits and working through any potential conflicts.
"Our hope is to implement everything we have brought forward," Perez said.
Yuba County Supervisor Randy Fletcher said most of the proposed sites are in the foothills and would provide a much-needed service to residents. At least two of the sites would require new towers to be built, and the county is ready to help make it happen.
The county made changes to its ordinance on cell phone towers in June 2015 to make it less restrictive. The ordinance previously was written with an urban environment in mind and made it nearly impossible to build new towers in the foothills, Fletcher said.
"I do not see any obstacles to stop or slow the process here now," Fletcher said.
Six of the proposed sites in Sutter County are on existing AT&T cell towers, the remaining two would either be on a third-party tower or require a new tower to be built.
Sutter County Supervisor Larry Munger said his county has been working on expanding access to broadband internet for several years, and AT&T laid underground infrastructure about two years ago.
The county too is willing to work with AT&T to expand access in the more remote rural areas, he said.
"We're pretty open to it," Munger said. "For what's coming down the road, you need internet."
The guidelines for the Connect America Fund money requires AT&T to build 40 percent of the infrastructure by the end of 2017, 60 percent by 2018, 80 percent by 2019 and reach 100 percent build out by 2020 or 2021, Perez said.
Some of the existing AT&T cell towers, which only need to have the internet equipment installed, could be working by the end of 2017, Perez said.
CONTACT Reporter Kirk Barron at 749-4796.