Neighbors want more bandwidth

Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 17, 1998

COMMUNITY CENTER: Neighbors want more bandwidth

Residents would be first in town to connect to city's fiber optic ring

In a recent survey, nearly 80 percent of residents who live in Palo Alto's Community Center neighborhood said they have electronic mail. So it seemed logical that the technologically oriented neighborhood is the first to ask the city to connect it to the city's new fiber optic ring.

The neighborhood would be the first in the city and among the first in the entire country to have residential hook-ups to a fiber ring. (A neighborhood in Maine and another in Denver, Colo. are already connected.)

Palo Alto's 28-mile ring of the lightning-fast information conduit has the potential to speed up the transmission of data to computers and move video and sound faster than ever. So far, only a few businesses are connected, and the city is still in the midst of receiving proposals from companies that could connect homes to the ring.

But the Community Center residents hope to supersede that process. In March, the group sent a proposal to the city's Utilities Department telecommunications manager asking if residents can hire their own vendors and pay for the connection themselves, at an estimated cost of $1,200 per household. Homes would either be connected at their fuse boxes or at the curb, and then be connected with cable. After that, each homeowner would pay a monthly fee to an Internet-service provider.

The city, said Community Center resident Marvin Lee, appears to be very interested.

On June 29, the City Council is expected to take the next step, which could involve a pilot program involving a handful of homes throughout Palo Alto. The idea, said Telecommunications Manager Van Hiemke, would be to make some experimental connections to the fiber ring, and make it available to a small number of homes.

"This is a concept. It's not a tried-and-true technique that's being deployed," Van Hiemke said. "We're still working through some of the details. It would be a major new program."

"It gives us all kinds of things to do that we haven't even found yet," Lee said of the connection. Most people who need faster Internet connections have T-1 telephone lines installed, but the fiber ring would be even faster. A half-mile of the ring passes through the Community Center neighborhood already.

"We're just everyday people and we'd like to have better connections to the Internet," said Warren Kallenbach, president of the Community Center Neighbors Association, which represents about 550 homeowners. Of those, as many as 60 or more are ready to be immediately connected to the fiber loop.

"We have people running businesses out of their homes and they need broad bandwidth," Kallenbach said. "The big advantage of fiber is it has almost unlimited potential. You can put anything on without overcrowding."

He says that rather than isolating neighbors, e-mail and the Internet have actually brought the neighborhood, which already has an e-mail network, closer together.

Kallenbach muses about one day holding a "virtual" neighborhood meeting using the Internet and the fiber ring, or possibly bringing neighborhoods from throughout the city together to confer on issues to bring before the City Council.

"It's a way of finding out what people think about all over town," he said.

--Elizabeth Lorenz 

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