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County Seeks Assistance in Boosting Broadband Coverage

The populous public entity is calling for proposals from companies that can provide it a comprehensive, forward-thinking broadband plan.

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In a development directly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s second most populous county is seeking assistance from IT companies in broadband deployment.

In a Request for Proposals (RFP) released Thursday, San Diego County is calling for responses from firms “interested in providing a Comprehensive Broadband Plan” during what would likely be a relatively brief engagement. Among the takeaways:

  • The county’s Land Use and Environment Group is the entity seeking proposals for “the development of a comprehensive infrastructure plan for deploying robust, resilient broadband infrastructure for the unincorporated region” of the county. The county covers an area of about 4,526 square miles — larger than either Delaware or Rhode Island — and all but about 689 square miles is unincorporated. Per its website, the group serves its region by “working to protect the public’s health and safety, sustain the environment” and improve the quality of life for all.
    “The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated significant limitations and reach of high-speed broadband throughout the unincorporated region of San Diego County,” according to the RFP. “Existing infrastructure was impacted due to the increased demands for digital learning, remote work, telehealth, and e-commerce.”
  • The plan’s impetus, the county said, is “the needs of unincorporated residents — or nearly 16 percent of residents according to 2013 California Department of Finance population numbers. The recent passage of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) “will assist in achieving this goal,” the county said in the RFP, noting its Board of Supervisors on June 8 recommended using ARPA funding for the project. “This federal initiative provides significant sums of funding for broadband which the County of San Diego can utilize to enhance broadband infrastructure,” the RFP said, indicating the plan will be used to “plan and implement broadband infrastructure to allow for reasonably priced universal access, enhanced network capacity, and speed to meet the needs” of the next 10 years of digital expansion. Improved resiliency is another aim.
  • The goal of the project’s proposed plan will be to offer a road map that “ensures equitable, reasonably priced access for all unincorporated area residents”; supports digital literacy for lower and higher education as well as up-skilling, reskilling and certification; and supports remote work and improves access to telehealth. The county also hopes the plan will promote the digital economy and enhance the digital infrastructure needed to boost quality of life including “intelligent transportation system (ITS) improvements that add resilience, redundancy, and remote control to the County’s emergency and fire response and evacuation management system.” The plan is also seen as the foundation for “smart counties” applications and supporting climate action goals by offering remote access to virtual services.
  • The comprehensive plan will develop “a tactical implementation plan that addresses the modernization and expansion of the County of San Diego’s unincorporated area broadband infrastructure,” according to the RFP. That plan must encompass issues including the current status of the unincorporated region’s broadband infrastructure such as upload and download speeds, transmission distance and current Internet access; gaps identified; and infrastructure development model options. It should also include an “analysis of barriers to the private sector from expanding into areas not currently supported by broadband,” including cost; consideration for “carrier-neutral cable landings ... terrestrial backhaul to key locations,” as well as middle-mile options and alternative last-mile infrastructure “including wireless and community networks.” It should include “identification of key routes in the region that connect anchor institutions, data centers, economic clusters, co-working hubs, including rural communities to foster remote work, distance learning, telehealth and digitally enabled societal systems.” And it should “assume fiber deployment” and should consider design, analyze cost and identify potential funding sources.
  • The initial base contract period is estimated to be six months. The RFP doesn’t specify a contract value. A pre-proposal conference will be held at 10 a.m. Friday; intents to attend that conference are due by 5 p.m. Thursday. Questions are due before 5 p.m. Friday. Proposals are due before 3 p.m. Oct. 1.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.