News

Opinion: Do we really need a municipal broadband system?

Well, it is time for another round of discussions about spending city funds on municipal fiber. I have been attending these periodic meetings for a quarter century now.

Robert Smith is a retired software development executive. Courtesy Robert Smith.

This time, the pitch is to use most of the $30 million the city has accumulated from the "dark fiber" services sold to large businesses for the project. What does this mean for our residents? Unknown, unless the city decides to build out an actual "fiber to the premises" (FTTP) system sometime in the future, perhaps five years from now. It appears that the detailed proposal includes wiring streets that have few if any large businesses. So, at least some of this money is being used in the expectation of moving forward with FTTP in a few years and not to support the dark fiber services.

The city is saying that the FTTP system would cost $90M all in. (I think this is low.) That would be mostly new money.

Let's ask if we should be doing this at all. In those fiber meetings I attended over the years, I learned a few things. I learned that we had incumbent companies such as Comcast and AT&T that were servicing our community. Second, I learned that these incumbents were getting better every year, a lot better, in terms of products and services. In recent years, our incumbents have offered services in excess of 1 gigabit to residential customers.

Building an FTTP system in Palo Alto is mainly duplicating the services that Comcast and AT&T have already built. It is very hard to construct an "overbuild" and make money on it. ("Overbuild" is an industry term for a broadband/cable system that is built in a community that is already well served. Overbuilds tend to be hard to build and unprofitable when completed.) One example is Google Fiber. Google undertook to completely change the broadband business with radical new ideas, and it failed. It was planning on building in Palo Alto and other nearby cities but withdrew.

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With Google and other investors out of the picture, the city is once again thinking about competing with Comcast and AT&T.

I want to stress how unnecessary a city FTTP system is, and how risky such an investment would be. Here are some of the risks.

1. Funding: Where does the money come from? Much of the investment needs to be made before you can start charging customers.

2. Product definition: To compete, the city may have to offer cable and phone services along with broadband for the foreseeable future. Telephone is easy but cable is messy, and I predict we would have to subcontract cable. The city seems to think that broadband would be sufficient but this is questionable.

3. Construction: Building this is going to be a problem, considering all of the other things that are already in the ground. "Overbuilds" can have huge issues and escalating costs with construction.

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4. Marketing, sales and services: This is not a "build it and they will come" situation; the city will have to fight to take customers from the incumbents. The city will have to come up with a marketing plan, organize a sales team (ongoing), and build a 24/7 customer support organization. Competition is not something that the city understands or, frankly, wants. The city overestimates how much respect residents have for the services it provides the residents.

5. Future shock: No one is sure what the future of wired systems will be. It is clear that many people now use cellphone service for phone, cable replacement, and broadband. 5G wireless transmission is coming, and no one is sure how this will impact wired systems.

6. Loss of reputation: Many cities have failed at municipal broadband and found that it destroyed their political environment for years. (Provo, Utah, and Alameda, California, are examples of such cities. Each city has its own circumstances. The most important sign that a community will not succeed with its own system is if the city is well-served by one or more large companies.)

Our city leadership is clear about what it wants. Mayor Tom DuBois said, "We have the opportunity to create a new city utility and deliver superior service to our residents." However, I believe it's clear that we do not need another broadband system and we should be suspicious about how successful the city can be in building and operating such a project.

Here are my recommendations about what the city should do.

1. Not proceed with the $30 million of upgrades to our dark fiber system, at least insofar as it is a down payment on a full FTTP system. Explore what other alternatives may exist for this $30 million pot. What else can we do with it? Can it be used for non-fiber expenditures?

2. Develop a more positive relationship with our incumbent broadband/cable providers. Ask them how we can help them, and share our ideas with them. The city has never tried to get along with these folks.

3. Urgently, think through how we can avoid the cuts in our existing services such as safety, libraries, and the Children's Theater. The community does not want these cuts. Is there potential to redirect the fiber funds to prevent these proposed cuts?

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Robert Smith is a retired software development executive. He is a published author on the history of pioneering work on computers in education at Stanford and in Silicon Valley. He was a board member of the Cable Co-op.

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Opinion: Do we really need a municipal broadband system?

by / Contributor

Uploaded: Fri, May 14, 2021, 6:59 am

Well, it is time for another round of discussions about spending city funds on municipal fiber. I have been attending these periodic meetings for a quarter century now.

This time, the pitch is to use most of the $30 million the city has accumulated from the "dark fiber" services sold to large businesses for the project. What does this mean for our residents? Unknown, unless the city decides to build out an actual "fiber to the premises" (FTTP) system sometime in the future, perhaps five years from now. It appears that the detailed proposal includes wiring streets that have few if any large businesses. So, at least some of this money is being used in the expectation of moving forward with FTTP in a few years and not to support the dark fiber services.

The city is saying that the FTTP system would cost $90M all in. (I think this is low.) That would be mostly new money.

Let's ask if we should be doing this at all. In those fiber meetings I attended over the years, I learned a few things. I learned that we had incumbent companies such as Comcast and AT&T that were servicing our community. Second, I learned that these incumbents were getting better every year, a lot better, in terms of products and services. In recent years, our incumbents have offered services in excess of 1 gigabit to residential customers.

Building an FTTP system in Palo Alto is mainly duplicating the services that Comcast and AT&T have already built. It is very hard to construct an "overbuild" and make money on it. ("Overbuild" is an industry term for a broadband/cable system that is built in a community that is already well served. Overbuilds tend to be hard to build and unprofitable when completed.) One example is Google Fiber. Google undertook to completely change the broadband business with radical new ideas, and it failed. It was planning on building in Palo Alto and other nearby cities but withdrew.

With Google and other investors out of the picture, the city is once again thinking about competing with Comcast and AT&T.

I want to stress how unnecessary a city FTTP system is, and how risky such an investment would be. Here are some of the risks.

1. Funding: Where does the money come from? Much of the investment needs to be made before you can start charging customers.

2. Product definition: To compete, the city may have to offer cable and phone services along with broadband for the foreseeable future. Telephone is easy but cable is messy, and I predict we would have to subcontract cable. The city seems to think that broadband would be sufficient but this is questionable.

3. Construction: Building this is going to be a problem, considering all of the other things that are already in the ground. "Overbuilds" can have huge issues and escalating costs with construction.

4. Marketing, sales and services: This is not a "build it and they will come" situation; the city will have to fight to take customers from the incumbents. The city will have to come up with a marketing plan, organize a sales team (ongoing), and build a 24/7 customer support organization. Competition is not something that the city understands or, frankly, wants. The city overestimates how much respect residents have for the services it provides the residents.

5. Future shock: No one is sure what the future of wired systems will be. It is clear that many people now use cellphone service for phone, cable replacement, and broadband. 5G wireless transmission is coming, and no one is sure how this will impact wired systems.

6. Loss of reputation: Many cities have failed at municipal broadband and found that it destroyed their political environment for years. (Provo, Utah, and Alameda, California, are examples of such cities. Each city has its own circumstances. The most important sign that a community will not succeed with its own system is if the city is well-served by one or more large companies.)

Our city leadership is clear about what it wants. Mayor Tom DuBois said, "We have the opportunity to create a new city utility and deliver superior service to our residents." However, I believe it's clear that we do not need another broadband system and we should be suspicious about how successful the city can be in building and operating such a project.

Here are my recommendations about what the city should do.

1. Not proceed with the $30 million of upgrades to our dark fiber system, at least insofar as it is a down payment on a full FTTP system. Explore what other alternatives may exist for this $30 million pot. What else can we do with it? Can it be used for non-fiber expenditures?

2. Develop a more positive relationship with our incumbent broadband/cable providers. Ask them how we can help them, and share our ideas with them. The city has never tried to get along with these folks.

3. Urgently, think through how we can avoid the cuts in our existing services such as safety, libraries, and the Children's Theater. The community does not want these cuts. Is there potential to redirect the fiber funds to prevent these proposed cuts?

Robert Smith is a retired software development executive. He is a published author on the history of pioneering work on computers in education at Stanford and in Silicon Valley. He was a board member of the Cable Co-op.

Comments

Open Range
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 14, 2021 at 9:24 am
Open Range, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on May 14, 2021 at 9:24 am

- "many people now use cellphone service for phone, cable replacement, and broadband. 5G wireless transmission is coming, and no one is sure how this will impact wired systems."


The solution becomes clearer.

Forget the fiber optics and install more 5G towers throughout Palo Alto.

Dig into the city coffers (allocating a portion of the recent $12.5 federal subsidy immediately comes to mind) and provide ALL Palo Alto residents with a maximum 20GBs of 4G and/or 5G cellular data at NO CHARGE.

That way they can use its access anywhere...at home and outside of their homes.

It is time for the City of Palo Alto to start giving back to its residents rather than taking their money all or most of the time.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 14, 2021 at 10:03 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on May 14, 2021 at 10:03 am

Thank you for this column and for being a voice of reality. We certainly don't need to spend $90,000,000+ at a time when our highly paid bureaucrats are threatening to cut crossing guards yet can't even provide decent customer service during power outages.

Shame on city "management" for promoting such a blatant ripoff.

One might think the City Manager is trying to provoke the community into forcing him out so he can collect an extra year's worth of salary, pension and vesting if he's forced to resign as per his employment agreement so he can triple-dip another pension in his next job.


em.a18
Registered user
College Terrace
on May 14, 2021 at 10:08 am
em.a18, College Terrace
Registered user
on May 14, 2021 at 10:08 am

I'm sensitive to the commercial efforts available in Palo Alto. They are good. But the companies involved are trying to extract as much money as they can from Palo Alto residents.

I'm proud of our municipal utility, and I wish Internet service was provided in the same fashion. We don't need multiple pipes running by our homes. The city should provide the fiber, and the residents and providers can provide the bits as needed.

(I don't know the economics, and don't care how the bits get to my home. Fiber involves a lot of physical infrastructure, while wireless depends on finite and expensive bandwidth.)

Every home in Palo Alto (and elsewhere) should have a cheap connection to the Internet. Please Palo Alto make it happen.


TorreyaMan
Registered user
Palo Verde
on May 14, 2021 at 10:21 am
TorreyaMan, Palo Verde
Registered user
on May 14, 2021 at 10:21 am

Years ago, if I recall correctly, we had a city-wide non-profit providing our initial cable service. It worked reasonably well and got us going, so to speak, and ultimately was incorporated into the Comcast or another predecessor provider. But now there is no real need for a huge expenditure; although neither Comcast nor ATT are so wonderful, there is no reason to expect the City's project to be any more reliable. A nice idea but at a huge cost and much too late.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 14, 2021 at 10:35 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on May 14, 2021 at 10:35 am

"I'm sensitive to the commercial efforts available in Palo Alto. They are good. But the companies involved are trying to extract as much money as they can from Palo Alto residents."

And the city and Palo Alto Utilities isn't? Remember they're "overcharging" us $21,000,000 a year to siphon money from us into the General Fund. That's why there have been 2 successful class action suits against them.


Rowan
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 14, 2021 at 10:49 am
Rowan, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on May 14, 2021 at 10:49 am

When we called Comcast for an outage problem last year, the technician told us that their system is very old and when new homes go up, as in the case of our neighborhood, the new homes get updated cable and the coverage for the existing network ( ie., older homes) is reduced. I can't see Comcast investing in a major upgrade. We tried to get faster internet service and Comcast was unable to deliver it to us.
"Second, I learned that these incumbents were getting better every year, a lot better, in terms of products and services." Question--What experience or research have you done from people who actually have these services that prove the incumbents are getting better?


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 14, 2021 at 11:11 am
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on May 14, 2021 at 11:11 am

Rowan and others,

Most cable/broadband systems are in a state of continual upgrades. It is like "rebuilding a ship at sea".

All systems are obsolete the day they are built so you are unlikely to be getting the newest and greatest.

You have to have a capital investment plan that matches this.

It is interesting that back in the early parts of the 20th Century, there were many local and nonprofit telephone systems. They couldn't keep up as improvements came in (think direct dialing, long distance, touch-tone, direct distance dialing) and were eventually sold to the larger conglomerates.

In the case of Palo Alto, the Cable Co-op system was sold in 2000 to what is now Comcast. While the Co-op was cash-flow positive, it had no money to pay for improvements. These included HDTV, new set-top boxes including DVR's, broadband at various speeds (10mb, 20mb, 50, 100, 200, now over 1GB if you want it). All of this required new equipment and new investment.

It is actually impressive that these companies were able to do this as smoothly as they did.


Vibhu Mittal
Registered user
Barron Park
on May 14, 2021 at 11:34 am
Vibhu Mittal, Barron Park
Registered user
on May 14, 2021 at 11:34 am

It would be nice to have more than one option (sometimes there isn't even a single good option) for internet. The article frames internet connectivity as a 'nice to have' rather than a 'must have' but for many of us the internet is our connection to the rest of the world, including our jobs. For something that critical, it makes sense for the city to ensure quality and availability.

The question regarding whether wireless connectivity might be enough (e.g., 5G or satellite) is very relevant. But if we want to have multi-gig networks (Provo, UT has 10G connectivity options, for instance) fiber is likely the only way. In that case, having the city treat it as a critical utility makes sense.


M. Zhiang
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 14, 2021 at 11:40 am
M. Zhiang, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on May 14, 2021 at 11:40 am

~ provide ALL Palo Alto residents with a maximum 20GBs of 4G and/or 5G cellular data at NO CHARGE.

Free Apple or Samsung smartphones (only one per family or one per residency) would also be gladly acknowledged.

Free is best and the City of Palo Alto can easily meet these ends if they reign-in lawsuits against the PAPD.


David
Registered user
Downtown North
on May 14, 2021 at 11:48 am
David, Downtown North
Registered user
on May 14, 2021 at 11:48 am

To handle a few objections:

5G isn't a panacea. Plenty of people don't get reliable cell service indoors even from 5G, and the truly high speed 5G service only works over very short distances.

Fiber is extremely future proof. The installed plant of cables is by far the most expensive thing to upgrade and there should be no need to touch that for decades.

Comcast has been forcing data caps onto customers exactly as usage has skyrocketed during the pandemic. Uncapped data requires an extra $30/month, paying per gigabyte for overage, or accepting Comcast's full control over your router, including firewall, sharing your connection via their XFinity Wifi service, and not being able to use your own wifi range extenders. Meanwhile AT&T has limited fiber coverage, still only offering DSL service to many addresses in Palo Alto.

Having recently moved within Palo Alto, I can tell you the customer service I received from the PA utilities was head and shoulders over what I've gotten from Comcast and AT&T. I'd prefer that experience for broadband as well.


Carol Scott
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on May 14, 2021 at 12:49 pm
Carol Scott, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on May 14, 2021 at 12:49 pm

As long as there is really no competition, there will be no big improvement in service and prices. Comcast is fine as long as you can pay high prices for decent speed and you never need service. It doesn’t feel any heat to improve as long as there are no other real options. To date, AT&T hasn’t bee a serious option because it does not deliver the speeds that are needed. Maybe someone finally will build a fiber optics system. It would terrific if the City could offer great internet service as a utility. As the recent pandemic just underscored, everyone needs a fast, reliable internet connection. I would prefer the City service to Comcast’s any day. But like other critical infrastructure projects that would be make for a better City for years to come — like putting the trains under ground so that we do not need to divide the City in two parts and shove massive traffic onto Embarcadero and Oregon/Page Mill — we seem not to be able find creative way to finance them and the will to pay for them.


Mama
Registered user
Crescent Park
on May 14, 2021 at 1:01 pm
Mama, Crescent Park
Registered user
on May 14, 2021 at 1:01 pm

We use AT&T fiber, and it is excellent. They are moving into Palo Alto to cover the whole city fairly quickly. Price is reasonable, and I had no problem setting it up with the company.



Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2021 at 1:21 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on May 14, 2021 at 1:21 pm

As much as I think internet is a crucial utility akin to electricity and water, I am not sure if I think our utilities should be supplying it. They are not providing reliable service when it comes to electricity and they are very reluctant to do anything about undergrounding our powerlines. We have power outages regularly for anything from mylar balloons, wildlife connections and maintenance problems, and their communication skills on any of these outages are abysmal.

I do not begin to think that our city owned utilities will provide an adequate and reliable service. They are proven incompetent.


Larry
Registered user
Downtown North
on May 15, 2021 at 12:31 pm
Larry, Downtown North
Registered user
on May 15, 2021 at 12:31 pm

@Mama:

Do you have any more information about AT&T's actual plans for increasing fiber availability in Palo Alto? Fiber is not available at my address, only miserably slow DSL. I'm forced to disagree with Mr. Smith that the incumbents are good and getting better, at least for my location; I see no evidence of improvement. I would reluctantly support the City installing FTTP if AT&T isn't going to do it anytime soon.


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2021 at 1:04 pm
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on May 15, 2021 at 1:04 pm

@Larry,

Let me try a response to your post.

Regarding AT&T, it is my understanding that AT&T is building out fiber in Palo Alto for the next few years, and about 90 cities in toto. There are many articles about this on the Internet. AT&T seems far enough along in Palo Alto that it will happen. They need to increase fiber in their overall system, however, to support the 5G rollout.

If you are wondering what happened to the telcos, they were regulated out of the cable/broadband business decades ago. While the regulators now want competition, the telcos have had a hard time, given both the breakup of AT&T and the apparent competitive strength of the cable companies.

Regarding Comcast, they have made huge improvements during the time that the city has considered building its own broadband system. The most recent improvement is adding support for 1gig service. The basic plant needs updating, which will get done in time.


tcr
Registered user
Crescent Park
on May 15, 2021 at 2:15 pm
tcr, Crescent Park
Registered user
on May 15, 2021 at 2:15 pm

Bob, thanks for a thoughtful opinion piece on the Palo Alto Fiber to the Home proposal. In many ways this is déjà vu in that I wrote a similar piece to the City Council in 2004 during an earlier effort to launch an FTTH project. The core issues were the same then as they are now. Networking, of course, is a core infrastructure necessity. However, mounting such a project, while beguiling, has to have deep and durable pockets to implement, deploy, support, compete, and keep current the service. My own earlier and continuing opposition is based on my considered belief that this project is too risky for the City of Palo Alto and would deflect financial resources and management attention from more important city challenges (e.g., balancing the budget in the face of current shortfalls, containing soaring personnel and benefits costs, sewers, roads, flood control, climate change impacts, political and racial unrest, recovering from the pandemic, homelessness, retaining a healthy retail base, education, libraries, security, etc.). With a certain admitted reluctance, I am also opposed to this plan for a Palo-Alto-backed FTTH project.

Tom Rindfleisch


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2021 at 2:49 pm
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on May 15, 2021 at 2:49 pm

@tcr,

Thanks, Tom, for your comments.

I remember the 2004 effort and your part. The current effort actually would have made more sense in 2004! Each time the city goes through this exercise, the less necessary it is.


Philomena
Registered user
College Terrace
on May 15, 2021 at 4:27 pm
Philomena , College Terrace
Registered user
on May 15, 2021 at 4:27 pm

"5G isn't a panacea. Plenty of people don't get reliable cell service indoors even from 5G, and the truly high speed 5G service only works over very short distances."

5G is also linked to a number of potential health hazards which is why people should think twice about having a 5G cell tower near their home or using a 5G smartphone unless it is set on speakerphone.


Sally Ryder
Registered user
Crescent Park
on May 15, 2021 at 5:35 pm
Sally Ryder, Crescent Park
Registered user
on May 15, 2021 at 5:35 pm

Though cell phone carriers are heavily promoting the 5G hyperbole, the truth is that 5G coverage is still limited and 4G will adequately suffice for the time being and perhaps even years to come.

The allure of 5G smartphones is being targeted towards millennial techno-geeks who always want the latest advancements in leading-edge technologies.

Like my phone is faster than your phone for gaming and social media.

Like who cares?

In time we will learn whether 5G is actually dangerous based on its newest users.


Larry Montrose
Registered user
Downtown North
on May 16, 2021 at 10:22 am
Larry Montrose, Downtown North
Registered user
on May 16, 2021 at 10:22 am

I will NEVER go 5G, let alone on a smartphone.

Every three years an Android must be replaced; six years for an iPhone.

Meanwhile Google and Apple are tracking every move/contact you make and then selling the information to advertisers.

And the same goes for your location unless you turn the setting off.

A burner flip-phone is still the best option for those concerned with invasion of privacy issues, malware, and hacking.

People have become overly addicted to smartphones and are now willing and able chumps for the likes of Google, Samsung, Apple, Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and other overly contrived consumer brandings.


Me 2
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2021 at 11:39 am
Me 2, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on May 18, 2021 at 11:39 am

Nothing like mentioning high speed networking and cell phone towers to bring out the crazies. It's also the reason why wireless networking will never replace wired here in Palo Alto, as there are just enough tin-foil hat people here to prevent enough cell phone coverage to be a reliable fixed internet service.

If we really want cost-effective broadband, we need local-loop unbundling, which could be possible if PAU puts in the FTTP infrastructure and charges reasonable wholesale rates to retail service providers (like, say, Sonic). However, given how bloated PAU is, not to mention how much of a source of revenue it is for the City, I'm not holding my breath for "reasonable wholesale rates."


Davis Pemberton
Registered user
Midtown
on May 18, 2021 at 11:49 am
Davis Pemberton, Midtown
Registered user
on May 18, 2021 at 11:49 am

Heath concerns (real or imagined) aside,
the hyperbole behind 5G promotion is akin to a BMW salesman telling an Audi owner that they need to 'upgrade'.

Just more marketing BS.


GN
Registered user
Midtown
on May 18, 2021 at 7:32 pm
GN, Midtown
Registered user
on May 18, 2021 at 7:32 pm

I wanted to send this out this afternoon but was stopped by the twirling circle of death--our daily afternoon-long internet drop. Whoever thinks what Comcast or AT&T is offering to our area is good is just wrong. In our area AT&T only offers DSL and Comcast does not have enough bandwidth to handle the neighborhood usage. We need fiber to all of the city--not just the privileged few, and it is clear the business community is not interested in paying for the infrastructure required. Just trying to get an email to load or send is a daily trial. It is embarrassing to try to hold Zoom meetings when the coverage drops regularly. Our co-workers ask where we live and can't believe Palo Alto is the answer. Palo Alto needs fiber, and years of waiting for someone else to do it has just been wasted time. My household is ready to sign-up now.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 18, 2021 at 10:11 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on May 18, 2021 at 10:11 pm

Our Comcast Business service is fine. It's not part of the Comcast-cable-whatever bundle and when others are reporting outages, we're up. Happy to pay more for the reliability.


Leslie York
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2021 at 11:30 pm
Leslie York, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on May 18, 2021 at 11:30 pm

Just curious: WHY was the cable co-op sold?


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 19, 2021 at 7:32 am
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on May 19, 2021 at 7:32 am

@Leslie York:

You ask why the Cable Co-op was sold. As a former board member and supporter of the sale, let me provide a little history.

The Cable Co-op did not want to be sold. In 1998, the Co-op board offered to give the system to the city without charge. The Co-op was cash-flow positive, had 28K of subscribers (including several other cities), and had a net asset value of $30 million.

The city thought it was risky (it was, except not as risky as building a new system today would be). Fiber supporters lobbied vigorously to avoid accepting the Co-op offer since it was not fiber. They didn't consider that it was a business platform for fiber.

So why was it necessary to sell? Because the Co-op could not obtain capital. The long-term debts were coming due, and worse, money was needed to upgrade to HDTV and continue working on Internet service, which the Co-op had as an experiment. Lenders would not lend it the money to continue. The Co-op board tried repeatedly to find the necessary funding.

So, the Co-op was sold to what became Comcast, for a net of $30 million after paying debts. The $30 million was given to the community, mostly the access group.

I didn't like this outcome at the time but I now think it was the only solution. The city would not, in my opinion, have been able to assume the necessary risks to keep the Co-op going, for much the same reasons that it is not going to succeed with its own system today. Cities are not in a position to take entrepreneurial risks.


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 19, 2021 at 7:41 am
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on May 19, 2021 at 7:41 am

@GN:

I am sorry to hear about your afternoon Internet drop. Thankfully, I don't experience this and haven't talked to anyone else who has.

May I suggest that you talk to our city and see if you can get them to discuss this sort of thing with Comcast. The city has not been very proactive about addressing things with Comcast.

From what I tell, AT&T is building a really powerful system here and in many other cities. It might also be useful for the city to talk to AT&T.


Tom DuBois
Registered user
Midtown
on May 19, 2021 at 2:41 pm
Tom DuBois, Midtown
Registered user
on May 19, 2021 at 2:41 pm

Monday night the City Council reviewed our National Community Survey, our annual survey of residents. The study is statiscally representative of the Palo Alto population with a margin of error of +/- 4%. Its extremely useful as it goes beyond ancedotal experiences.

While individual experience may vary based on where you live, when asked to rate our Utilities and affordable high speed internet access, resident feedback was very clear. All Utilities got scores of 77-88% rating them as excellent or good. Internet in Palo Alto only got 39%, less than half of any other utility. Expanding our city fiber network and contracting with providers to provide internet service/technical support would enable us to provide much better service (both up and down) for less cost than most residents are getting today.

Many cities around us are moving forward with city or community owned networks including Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Portola Valley, Atherton and others.

The Survey can be found here
Web Link


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 19, 2021 at 3:09 pm
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on May 19, 2021 at 3:09 pm

@Tom Dubois,

Good luck with this venture. I will certainly give it a trial comparing it to the incumbent providers.


Bob Smith


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 19, 2021 at 4:53 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on May 19, 2021 at 4:53 pm

@Tom DuBois, I tried to take that survey and couldn't because I couldn't remember my old password> I requested and never got the password reset information requested. I wrote to the city and nada. Lydia was the only one who tried to help and she also got nowhere.

Please check the survey response rate before touting the survey results especially re Palo Alto Utilites which couldn't even notify people about the duration of power outages.

Please check especially before spending $90,000,000 when we have a budget crunch and huge unfunded pension liabilities.


Curmudgeon
Registered user
Downtown North
on May 19, 2021 at 5:18 pm
Curmudgeon, Downtown North
Registered user
on May 19, 2021 at 5:18 pm

Do we really need to spend scarce municipal funds to promote streaming Netflix? Why?


jlanders
Registered user
Barron Park
on May 19, 2021 at 5:27 pm
jlanders, Barron Park
Registered user
on May 19, 2021 at 5:27 pm

Tom DuBois,

We'd be very supportive of building out the City's fiber network for residential service. Our residence is a half block away from an AT&T's fiber pull, but AT&T has no intention of bringing service to our street. In fact, a contractor for Palo Alto Utilities replaced several poles including the one right in front of our house in January of 2016. AT&T still haven't moved their cables and attachments to the new poles 5 years later! The old poles are still here, holding onto AT&T's DSL lines like grim death. Let's face it, AT&T is great at "fiber to the press release" but not so good with "fiber to the home"

We don't see the relevance of the Cable Co-op to today's fiber proposal. The Co-op received the mid-peninsula's cable franchise in 1985. By the mid-90's the Co-op built out a nice coaxial cable TV service covering about 50% of the service area that included Palo Alto, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Atherton and Stanford. That was a logical choice because they needed to scale their customer base to receive good rates for their cable TV content. But, they accumulated almost $40 million in debt and had a big payment due that they were unable to cover.

When the council balked, it was AT&T that bought the Cable Co-op. AT&T promised all kinds of wonderful things for cable in Palo Alto. Then, a short time later AT&T spun off their broadband cable and merged it with Comcast. Now, according this editorial AT&T back to save us!

This is pretty much standard operating procedure for the Weekly. They were against Palo Alto Utilities building a dark fiber service. Twenty years and with $30 million dollars in the City's fiber optic fund, I doubt they're going to admit that they were wrong.


A Parent
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2021 at 1:04 pm
A Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on May 21, 2021 at 1:04 pm

In order to have "reliable" service at home for pandemic school and work, we had to finally bite the bullet (which we cannot afford) and have 2 services (1 DSL) and phone hotspot as a backup, so that if one or the other doesn't work, we can usually (but not always) switch to another one that is working. Today we had trouble with all 3.

I really think that companies should only be able to advertise data rates and service reliability based on actual experiences...


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 21, 2021 at 1:32 pm
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on May 21, 2021 at 1:32 pm

@A Parent:

You make great points about testing and publishing the results. It would be nice for some impartial group to do studies.

One problem in evaluating Internet connectivity problems is that it is hard to say if the problem is "the last mile" [say, Comcast] or "the first 999 miles" [all the rest of the Internet].

We know that some services were having occasional problems with overload of users and students.


atotic
Registered user
Palo Verde
on May 21, 2021 at 5:37 pm
atotic, Palo Verde
Registered user
on May 21, 2021 at 5:37 pm

I’d welcome any entity that lays fiber to my door. Since Comcast and att are not showing any interest, I am hoping the city will step in. I’d happily pay $30k for the installation privilege.
Working from home has demonstrated that fast internet is essential, and that uplink speeds matter.
Our entire neighborhood had terrible uplink speed, and Comcast told us they might fix it in 2022. We filed a complaint with FCC. Speeds got fixed within a week, and we all got personal calls from Comcast rep asking us if everything is ok.
Wireless? ROTFL


John
Registered user
Palo Alto Hills
on May 23, 2021 at 10:53 am
John, Palo Alto Hills
Registered user
on May 23, 2021 at 10:53 am

Rather than belaboring this type of issue, Mike Farmwald over in Atherton got tired of dealing with the non-competitive nature of US broadband (ask Reed Hunt!), he then created Atherton Fiber along with several friends. You pay for the pull from the demarc to the home, they pay for the street by street trenching etc. Tied in to Equinix SV-8 @ 529 Bryant (used to be PAIX long ago) and other Tier 1 peers. You get to choose the carrier, LMI.net, Monkeybrains or Atherton fiber themselves. I am using this at an Atherton site using 2 x 1Gb/s dedicated fibers ($7500), this is not a commercial. They are doing N Fair Oaks and Lindenwood next.Web Link


BobH
Registered user
Palo Verde
on May 24, 2021 at 5:36 pm
BobH, Palo Verde
Registered user
on May 24, 2021 at 5:36 pm

I support a City of Palo Alto Utilities Fiber to the home buildout. I think it would be a great addition our City of Palo Alto infrastructure.

I think the best approach is for the city to bring fiber to everyones residence/apartment, then allow you to contract with any provider to provide the Internet service. This is the arrangement that the current City fiber network has. We are fortunate to have the Palo Alto Internet Exchange where there are many Internet Providers where the connections can be made. The city only needs to expand what it does now, it does not need to become an ISP.





rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 24, 2021 at 9:11 pm
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on May 24, 2021 at 9:11 pm

@BobH:

I have always thought this was an interesting idea but I think it hasn't worked in some places.

Also, I suspect that the city would want to be the ISP in the expectation of making more money. Remember that if you divide up a fixed set of customers amongst more competitors, you can come to the point where no one can survive.


Rhodoreae
Registered user
Ventura
on May 25, 2021 at 5:57 pm
Rhodoreae, Ventura
Registered user
on May 25, 2021 at 5:57 pm

The Palo Alto Electric Operations Division is unable to retain essential staff to maintain and upgrade our electric distribution system. How will the City be able to offer competitive wages and benefits to launch a RELIABLE telecom service to compete with AT&T and Comcast? I pay $60/month for 1 GB fiber service now. Can the City offer a lower price? The staff report suggests $85/month.


Leslie York
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on May 26, 2021 at 3:48 pm
Leslie York, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on May 26, 2021 at 3:48 pm

"Do we really need to spend scarce municipal funds to promote streaming Netflix?"

On top of the millions to be spent for grade separation, if that ever happens?

Any wireless service is vulnerable to interference and 5G is no exception. Data security issues aside, it wouldn't take much for a miscreant to jam a 5G signal. You don't want to hitch residential Internet to a 5G wagon.

"Mike Farmwald over in Atherton got tired of dealing with the non-competitive nature of US broadband (ask Reed Hunt!), he then created Atherton Fiber along with several friends. You pay for the pull from the demarc to the home, they pay for the street by street trenching etc. Tied in to Equinix SV-8 @ 529 Bryant (used to be PAIX long ago) and other Tier 1 peers. You get to choose the carrier, LMI.net, Monkeybrains or Atherton fiber themselves. I am using this at an Atherton site using 2 x 1Gb/s dedicated fibers ($7500), this is not a commercial. They are doing N Fair Oaks and Lindenwood next."

So get this service extended to Palo Alto.


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