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Internet Utilities in Palo Alto

Original post made by Resident, Charleston Meadows, on Mar 11, 2020

Yesterday, Xfinity internet services went down for several hours in Charleston Meadows. This was after several shorter outages throughout the day as well as occasional outages today. While I'm sure such a long outage could be attributed to the additional strain on the system from the large influx of work-from-home employees, it really exposed a large issue that, I'm sure, a lot of Palo Alto faces.

Somehow, we've essentially allowed a monopoly over most of Palo Alto. At least around Charleston Meadows (I have not looked into other addresses, but I'm sure you will see similar results), all providers *technically* provide service. But, the services offered are massively unbalanced.

*Sonic - piggybacking on AT&T - 10-20mbps w/o data cap
*AT&T - 10mbps w/ 1TB data cap
*Earthlink - 7mbps w/o data cap
*Verizon Fios - Nonexistant
*Google Fiber - Nonexistant
*Xfinity - up to 2gbps (data cap varies on plan).

And for the many people not linked through fiber, upload speeds will be very low, even for those Xfinity Gigabit plans.

For comparison:
*Netflix recommends at least 25mbps for 4k
*Downloading an average AAA game (60gb) will take 8 hours at 2MB/s (around 16mbps)
*It would take around 3 hours to download Windows at 2MB/s (20gb download)
*It would take around 2 hours to download MacOS at 2MB/s
*Microsoft Visual Studio is up to 60gb, again, 8 hours at 2MB/s

Download caps, for the moment, are acceptable for the average user. A power user could certainly surpass this amount, but your average Netflix watcher won't. But, in Silicon Valley, it isn't unlikely that many users will surpass this data cap. Let's say you're setting up your new Xbox. While I used 60gb as an average, many games are approaching 100gb and above - this will eat your data cap only 10 games in, and that is ignoring data used for streaming video content. Anyone transferring large amounts of photos, video content, streaming, scrapbooks, any data content could also easily pass this 1tb limit. I expect this limit to be obsolete soon - as programs increase in size - if it is not already obsolete.

As much as I would like to see Palo Alto enact a municiple fiber system, which is proven to work in small cities across the country (leading to affordable high-bandwidth internet, imagine 1gbps up/down with no data cap at $60/mo - around the price 20mbps costs in Palo Alto) it's clear that at this point, some 20 years after the installation of the dark fiber ring, it will either never happen or happen too late.

There's not a lot of solutions to combat this problem. Comcast has too much money and too many lawyers for the city to step up, and smaller telecom providers are blocked by those means as well. 5G could be a solution, but it has unproven effects and even if it was shown to be safe, I'm sure it will face a lot of backlash from Luddites. At best, I really just hoped to call attention to this issue. I hate seeing people being complacent with Comcast/Xfinity's monopoly (or AT&T, depending where you are) and paying hundreds of dollars each month for unstable, low-speed internet and overage fees. I'll enjoy seeing Palo Alto Online's usual civilized comment thread beneath this post. I'm sure someone will defend Xfinity's monopoly - it's a free market, isn't it, etc, while ignoring the blatant legal threats and lobbying that they do on local, state, and federal levels.

Comments (1)

2 people like this
Posted by alex
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 26, 2020 at 12:12 pm

The problem with fiber companies getting service over to palo alto is that the city is not dense enough to be profitable. They would have to bring fiber to each block, but the blocks are mostly single family homes. So, cities like palo alto will never be a priority. I think that we need to go to city council and demand that they restart a municipal project. My sidewalks have been redone twice already and there is money to go around. They could also create a new bill and add it in through our taxes.

For now, the solution that i have found is Comcast business. I absolutely hate Comcast as a company and their residential service gets really slow when you need it most. However, if you pay a little extra and get business internet, then you seem to get dedicated bandwidth. The speeds are fairly good as well.

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