Local experts say Ventura County needs fast and stable internet

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County officials, corporate executives and a variety of technology experts, advocates and entrepreneurs met to discuss the future of broadband internet in the region during Thursday morning’s Ventura County Public Leadership Discussion summit at the Ventura County Community Foundation in Camarillo.

The three-hour summit focused on the importance and expansion of broadband internet, the economic impact of faster internet speeds and new technologies, and how to expand them throughout Ventura County.

While the discussion covered a variety of topics, the economic value of high-speed internet was an overarching focus. Due to the increasing popularity of video streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu and other bandwidth-reliant factors such as individuals who work from home or those who own small businesses, experts said having fast and stable internet speed is becoming increasingly important for communities throughout the nation.

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The business and general economic value of strong broadband services were touched upon by state Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin during the summit. Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, argued that having a quality, region-wide internet infrastructure is key to attracting and retaining businesses and startups that could have a positive economic impact on the county. As many businesses require strong internet services to operate, it’s paramount for them to be in an area that can provide sufficient broadband services, Irwin said.

“Companies would be more attracted to this area if we had a high-speed infrastructure here, and it’s a big drawback in Ventura County that we don’t have broad access to high-speed internet,” Irwin said in an interview. “I’ve met a lot of young entrepreneurs who really want to be in Ventura County and start their businesses here, and if we could somehow invest in more high-speed internet, that would be very attractive for these small startups.”

That poses a problem for Ventura County, where sufficient internet speeds are not universally available.

Mike Pettit, the county’s chief information officer, presented a report card that graded Ventura County’s cities by their internet speeds during his speech. Only three cities, Camarillo, Oxnard and Thousand Oaks, received B-minus to B-plus ratings in the broadband study, which was commissioned by the Broadband Consortium Pacific Coast, a local organization that aims to improve broadband in the region. The report indicated that average internet download speeds in those areas are at least up to 10 megabytes-per-second.

Internet speed is widely determined by its megabytes per second, with a recent NerdWallet study determining that 5 to 8 megabytes per second is recommended for high-definition video streaming. The study can be read here: https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/utilities/how-to-decide-what-internet-speed-you-need.

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The other cities cited in the broadband study received C or D grades, which presents issues for both current and potential residents and businesses in Ventura County. During his presentation, Pettit added that officials from the Ventura County Office of Education said some students drive to school parking lots to use their school’s wireless internet access because usable internet is not available in their homes.

Presenters agreed that investing in strong internet access would be a significant boost to Ventura County’s economy. One presenter, Rick Usher, assistant city manager in Kansas City, Missouri, noted that the introduction of Google Fiber to large parts of his city had a noticeable impact on the area’s businesses, while other speakers echoed the potential local economic value of similarly fast broadband services.

Still, Irwin noted that it would be important for local investment not to be restricted to high-income areas. Dedicating resources to improving broadband speeds in Ventura County’s lower-income cities could attract businesses to those areas and help improve the overall economic standing of the region, Irwin said.

“Local broadband investment has generally been in affluent areas, but this is something that we have to look at regionally,” Irwin said in an interview. “Ventura’s (broadband) grades were terrible, Oxnard’s were so-so and Port Hueneme’s were terrible, and those are all areas that could benefit tremendously from more investment and broadband infrastructure.”

Beyond broadband infrastructure, several presenters also touched on a handful of emerging technology products that require an internet connection. Products, ranging from “smart home” appliances such as fire and smoke detectors, health monitors and home security systems, to “smart agriculture” tools including microchipping for livestock and soil moisture sensors, were touted during the summit, with speakers noting that even the most ambitious of technologies cited are likely only several years away from hitting the mainstream market.

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Despite the array of products listed, they all had one thing in common: a required internet connection, according to Jack Ellis, sales operation director at the Camarillo-based Semtech Corp., a technology supplier. Besides its business and regional economic applications, Ellis stressed that advocating for fast, accessible internet speeds throughout Ventura County would become increasingly important as county residents begin to make further use of internet-reliant products.

“If you have security devices transmitting data, you don’t want interruptions on that,” Ellis said in an interview. “From security to medical reasons, there’s a need for stable internet and it’s not just about streaming video. It will require investment but as more people use these kinds of technology we will need faster, more secure broadband.”

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