Tahoe looks to speed up its tech services
November 5, 2014
About the time the biggest crowds of visitors to Lake Tahoe need cell phone service the most — a busy Fourth of July weekend, say, or around President's Day — they're likely to find that networks are overwhelmed by sheer numbers.
And residents and business owners in some locations around the lake long have complained Internet speeds are too slow to deal with today's voracious appetite for bandwidth.
The first steps toward solutions — getting a better understanding of the problems — have been undertaken by a nonprofit based in Incline Village, and the organization expects to begin wrestling with solutions next year.
The Tahoe Prosperity Center says improvement of connectivity around the lake is among the most important factors in diversification and stabilization of the area's economy.
“We want to look at this from a strategic viewpoint.”
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The center last week completed what it called an exercise in "ground-truthing" — gathering data from hundreds of users to see if Internet speeds around the Tahoe basin are as fast as carriers claim.
Internet users conducted more than 900 tests through the Tahoe Prosperity Center Web site to determine if speeds meet minimum standards established by the California Public Utilities Commission. That agency defines as "underserved" any area which doesn't have download speeds of 6 megabits per second. (Urban areas commonly have 10-megabit speed.)
"It's a pretty hot issue," says Bev Ducey, a program manager for the Tahoe Prosperity Center who's overseeing the cell-and-broadband work.
The on-the-ground testing of Internet speeds was conducted over three months this autumn.
While data from users' tests hasn't been compared with information developed by the broadband carriers that serve the Lake Tahoe Basin, Ducey said underserved areas appear to be largely along the west shore and around Squaw Valley.
It's possible, she says, that grants through the California Public Utilities Commission could help carriers hang new fiber cables and beef up their service. While California officials have underwritten the Prosperity Center's work and would provide grants to improve service, Ducey said those officials understand that efforts can't simply focus on the California side of the lake.
Improved cell service, however, is likely to be a trickier proposition, Ducey said.
Along with dead spots in coverage, carriers' networks throughout the Tahoe basin become overwhelmed during major events such as the American Century Golf Tournament at South Lake Tahoe.
While the answer in urban areas would be simple — build some more cell towers — that's a challenge within the tight environmental regulations in the Lake Tahoe area. And highly competitive cell carriers don't want to share information about their plans with one another, which limits the possibilities for them to share towers and reduce their environmental footprints.
Tahoe Prosperity Center staff is preparing to sort through the problems with carriers and regulatory agencies, Ducey said.
"We're going to try to facilitate a smoother process," she said. "We want to look at this from a strategic viewpoint."