A ribbon cutting ceremony to introduce a new high-speed internet system in Fairhaven (Humboldt County) was held in October. Many families in the community were not able to participate in distance learning during the pandemic due to lack of access to broadband internet service.
Rural community welcomes broadband
December 5, 2022
Broadband internet recently arrived in the rural community of Fairhaven thanks to a public-private partnership that included the local fire department, county office of education and a global $1 million challenge to craft solutions to the “digital divide.”
The collaboration between the California Department of Education, Humboldt County Office of Education, California-based technology firm Dalet Access Labs, and the Samoa Peninsula Fire District’s Fairhaven fire station has designed an advanced model to create internet access for rural students.
Last year, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced “The California Digital Divide Innovation Challenge.” The rules of the challenge stipulate that competitors must test their innovation with students experiencing a lack of connectivity either due to barriers of affordability or infrastructure. The solution must be at a cost of no more than $15/month per household, include 100 megabits synchronous upload and download speed with no data caps, and have fully deployable implementation within a year.
The Fairhaven system is now deployed, and the project remains entered in the competition where the prize is $1 million.
The innovation is the result of the CDE’s request for the development of a solution to help bridge the digital divide in underserved communities.
In Humboldt County, HCOE Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Colby Smart and CDE Chief Deputy of Public Instruction Mary Nicely connected with Dalet Access Labs and set out to conduct the project in the community of Fairhaven, located on a narrow peninsula near the city of Eureka. The community of Fairhaven was identified through conversations between Smart and former Superintendent/Principal Lark Doolan, who identified many families with school children in the community who were not able to participate in distance learning during the pandemic.
“We wanted to create a solution that could become a model for the rest of rural California and the world,” Smart said. “We created what’s called a ‘low latency mesh network’ that addresses two issues in Humboldt County: the high cost of broadband internet and the availability of broadband internet.”
The Samoa Peninsula Fire District’s Fairhaven fire station was chosen as the base of operations due to its proximity to all homes in Fairhaven. Samoa Peninsula Fire District Chief Dale Unea supervised the development of the network at the fire station, as the authority of the Samoa Community Services District with fire protection.
“When we were contacted by HCOE, we were excited to get internet for the kids,” Unea said. “It hasn’t been easy due to Coastal Commission rules, and it’s taken all kinds of creative solutions to make it all work, but what I’ve seen with the internet speeds is just great!”
He added that he would like to see the whole peninsula connected to improve communication on devices used by the Community Services District. The Fairhaven model surpassed the minimum requirements for the Innovation Challenge, with download speeds around 100 megabits and low latency speeds of 700 to 900 megabits at around $15/month.
“It’s an amazing example of what public-private partnership can do to help address and solve a real problem,” Smart said.
“We wanted to create a solution that could become a model for the rest of rural California and the world.”
— Colby Smart, Humboldt County Office of Education Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services
CEO of Dalet Access Labs Odion “Odie” Edehomon led the project with the Humboldt County Office of Education to create the broadband system under guidelines set forth in the CDE competition. The group worked with Cogent Communications and AT&T to launch a live fiber optic line to the Fairhaven fire house structure. Using the fire house, Edehomon said an access point was established under the Public Infrastructure Network Node to support the planned high-speed broadband wireless network, called “intelligent Network Fabric.”
Sensors were established with the main access point at the fire house. Using Dalet Access Labs’ technology, wireless “nodes” were deployed throughout the Fairhaven community for families with students. Through the system’s optimized sensor-networking software, the system was enabled, providing low latency, high-speed internet coverage to families in Fairhaven. The infrastructure for high-quality distance learning was in place as a result.
“This is a model for rural places with schools that don’t have internet,” Edehomon said. “Furthermore, it’s a model for rural schools that won’t have to wait five or 10 years to get internet into the classroom.”
He said that the outcome in Fairhaven is that Dalet Access Labs has successfully deployed the transformational sensor-driven network nodes in four locations in the community to provide up to 82 homes with low-latency, high-speed broadband. Furthermore, technology called “OpenRoaming” lets users take their broadband everywhere they go on a global scale.
Smart added that challenges of this magnitude can only be addressed through deep partnerships.
“I’d like to thank the Samoa Volunteer Fire Department, the California Department of Education, the Peninsula School District and the many families who have gone on this journey with us,” he said.
CEO of Dalet Access Labs Odion “Odie” Edehomon with students in Fairhaven.
Representatives from Dalet Access Labs, CDE, Humboldt COE and local fire department.
The Fairhaven fire station was chosen as a base of operations.
Map showing new broadband internet coverage in Fairhaven.
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