In early October, Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco, California announced the city’s plan to deliver fiber to the premises (widely known as FTTP) in the wider San Francisco area, connecting every residential home and business in the city with high-speed internet. Despite the obvious benefits this move would provide the city’s residents and businesses with, the tycoons of retail internet are sounding the alarms.
San Francisco is popularly known as the tech center of the world, hosting the Bay Area’s “Silicon Valley.” Although the ongoing conversation around high speed internet has supposedly surpassed fiber cables with talks of internet capabilities like “LiFi,” not all major U.S. cities have fiber-cabled internet grids. Contrary to stereotypical depictions of the city, San Francisco does not have infrastructure that can support high-speed FTTP internet. Since 2002, the city has been laying down scores of fiber cables to connect municipal buildings and hospitals with high speed internet. And while these cables can lower the current cost of providing internet to the city, which stands at $1.3 million, the cables are not connected to residential homes and businesses, leaving private internet providers to sell their services to these clients.
The City’s recently unveiled plan to begin laying down fiber cables is reflective of its philosophy of ‘internet equity,’ which it detailed in the strategy released with the announcement last month. Since 2014 and with generous help from Google, the City has been able to provide San Franciscans with free WiFi in 32 different locations. With the new fiber cables, it is hoping to extend high-speed internet to others in the city by expanding the existing fiber network.
Retail internet service in the San Francisco area is currently dominated by big names like Comcast, which dominates retail internet in the city, according to the co-chair of the project’s advisory committee, CTC, and AT&T. On the one hand, the city’s announcement is problematic for these companies since they have not yet announced any plans to expand their internet networks to FTTP any time soon. On the other side of the coin, these companies are concerned that the city’s expansion of the already existing network will infringe on access to the retail internet market that they already serve in San Francisco.
The city has already provided a framework in response to these concerns. Following the expansion of the city’s existing fiber network to the public, the network will be divided into a “dark” and a “lit” planning. The former will be the network which serves municipal buildings and hospitals and will be disconnected from retail internet providers. The latter will serve the wider public and directly connect to retail internet providers.
In order to construct this ‘extended’ network, the city will provide private retailers with a kind of franchise of the “dark” fiber planning, which retailers would connect customers to, providing them with high-speed internet completely separate from that which the public is connected to. The CTC, however, emphasizes that the city has no plans to compete with private retailers to provide FTTP high-speed internet. Rather, the city is focused on providing the necessary infrastructure to allow for what it is calling internet equity in the 21st century.