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Palo Alto seeks flickers of hope for fiber network

Original post made on May 14, 2013

As local technologists can readily vouch, Palo Alto's journey toward a citywide high-speed Internet network has been anything but high speed. But members of the City Council's newest committee expressed hope Tuesday afternoon that success may finally be within reach.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 7:56 PM

Comments (25)

Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 14, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Please - take it out of the hands of CPAU. The last thing I want is more junk mail on how green they are with my internet bill.

The reason why other places have fiber before us? We don't have an agency that can't get its bloated self out of its way to get it done. Tiny companies (i.e. is making it happen because they have to deal with market conditions to do it efficiently.

Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2013 at 8:49 am

The it's-too-sacred-to-die dreams of a handful of aging Palo Altos to get the City to provide them subsidized Fiber in their homes is getting to be beyond distressing--it's become something that is wasting everyone's time, and money.

Consider the following:

It seems that I missed a very important announcement by AT&T last fall that fills in a number of gaps in my sense of what AT&T is planning in the not-too-distant future. It seems that AT&T wants to sunset its PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network)�replacing it with an Internet-based system (IP). The following article reports on AT&T�s announcement�
Web Link

[Article text removed due to potential copyright infringement.]

There aren�t many technical details in this article�such as whether AT&T is planning to provide �high speed Internet� services at the 100MB (and above) speeds, or at the current 10MB (and below) speeds? In other words, will AT&T get around to running Fiber-to-the-Premises, or continue its Fiber-to-the-Neighborhood approach, using VDSL (existing copper) for the connection from the pole to the home?

Google/Fiber has announced that in addition to Kansas City, it will also be �fiberizing� Austin, TX. It also has purchased the assets of iProvo (a municipal Fiber operation) for $1�promising to provide Google/Fiber to Provo, and leaving the Provo taxpayers to pay for the bonds they floated for the Municipal Fiber operation that was struggling. Not long after Google announced its intentions to �fiberize� Austin, AT&T announced that it would be providing 1GB service in the Austin area�noting in its press release that Google�s appearance in the Austin area had �nothing to do with our decision� (or words to that effect).

The FCC has not exactly jumped for joy over this AT&T filing, as this recent Forbes� article points out�

Web Link


The implications of this change are enormous, depending on what AT&T has in mind, and how quickly they intend to implement the changes. This is such a sea-change in our national telephone system that I can only say that once these changes are in place, we will probably see our old handsets disappear, replaced with a new device that will be a fusion between the capabilities of our old handsets and our computers. Those of us using VoIP now are on the �bleeding� edge of what I am talking about. I hesitate to speculate about the changes, because they range from NexGen-911 to intelligent assistants that communicate with us via our cell phones, or wearable computers.

The FCC�s role here is interesting�because it will be either operating in our collective good, or in opposition to our collective good. The stability, and ubiquity, of our PSTN is a result of government oversight. AT&T seems to want the Government to �back off� a bit. Hard to predict exactly what they want the government to do, and not do, in the realm of telecommunications oversight. There is also a movement afoot to free up broadcast TV bandwidth to provide for local data bandwidth (WiFi, and/or other regional data networks). The FCC has shown some interest in these sorts of ideas recently. So, some of AT&T�s idea about using Wireless Internet might well resonate with the FCC, sooner or later.

Which brings me back to Palo Alto, and the never-ending quest for the PAU to operate a Fiber service. Given the failures of just about every municipal fiber operation�one can only wonder if the Mayor, and/or the City Manager, have been paying attention to these announcements about the failures of municipal fiber operations, and the sea-changes that are occurring in the commercial telecommunications industry?

We are about a decade behind the state-of-the-art of Internet-based telecommunications nationally. Let�s hope that the FCC doesn�t engage in a lot of multi-year foot dragging on the proposals that will presented to it about bring the next generation of telecommunications services to the American people. Let�s also hope that the City of Palo Alto doesn�t get involved in any new projects involving telecommunications. The Mitchell Park Library projects shows pretty clearly how much management expertise exists within the walls of 250 Hamilton Avenue.

Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 15, 2013 at 9:38 am

Samsung Demos 1Gb/“5G” Technology

The AT&T announcement from last year (2012) included some vague ideas about AT&T offering wireless Internet, with the implications that it would be deemphasizing its landline delivery to residences. Presumably, this would be in rural areas, where the cost-per-customer to deliver services becomes astronomical, compared to an urban setting.

The proverbial fly-in-the-ointment with this idea turns out to be the fact that wireless data delivery has always been very limited, compared to land lines. How AT&T was intending to actually deliver sufficiently high data speeds was an open issue in their announcement.

Enter Samsung and “5G”

Wireless data people have been working behind the scenes for years, trying to increase their capability of their technology so that it would gain the backing of the national carriers for adoption of this method of data delivery. The dirty little secret in this business has been that “video” is the only “product” that consumers are willing to pay for, and that most of the other offerings that come out of the Internet have been either free, and not great revenue generators. Wireless data (WiFi, to date) has been restricted to very small foot prints and up-until-recently, fairly slow data speeds (compared to fiber). Intel’s WiMAX offers vastly larger transmission footprints, and greater data transmission speeds, but still not enough to offer meaningful regional wireless data service, except in rural areas.

The links below report on a recent Samsung demonstration of 1Gb capability:

Web Link

Web Link

This link reports on a 10Gb experiment at a Japanese Uni:

Web Link

Continued shifts in the wireless data delivery ecosystem

Technology and consumer demand are both driving, and accelerating, the wireless delivery of data—which now can offer the basic needs of human existence--printed material, voice communications and video. The thousands of other applications that have emerged on our smartphones, and tablets, can not be mentioned because of their vast number—but this march of software/mobile communications will never end.

We are now seeing the major networks taking note of the ability of tablets to handle streaming video, and at least two of the networks are planning Apps to allow users to purchase licenses for on-line, live, viewing of their broadcast products--

ABC/Live Streaming:
Web Link

The idea that the City of Palo Alto should spend between $50M-$75M over the coming years to provide fiber-to-the-home is unthinkable, given the shift from point-delivery of data signals to regional, wireless data networks.

Posted by don
a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2013 at 11:31 am

The present "Dark Fiber" system that serves some 80 businesses is very expensive which explains why many of the total number of businesses have not signed up for it. To them the cost/benefit ratio can not be justified.

Will private residences be forced to pay several thousand dollars each plus a monthly fee to connect to the proposed system? If they are, can they opt out if they can't justify the cost?

Many people don't need high speed connection since they only send and receive e-mails and don't download videos. Unlike gas, water, and electricity, this service is not a must and should be optional.

Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 15, 2013 at 11:31 am

The latest round of Google Fiber went to Provo, Utah. Why? The city had already installed Fiber-to-the-home, but was losing money on it, so was trying to sell to a private entity. Also, Provo has a really high number of patents granted!! (Thanks BYU)

What do we learn? Build it and it will lose money? Build it and then hope to sell to Google?

Here's what Provo learned: Web Link

But, as we all give up our TV cable and watch Hulu and Netflix via the internet, and make our phone calls on Voice-over-Internet, those Comcast cables are not going to have enough bandwidth. Think Hiway 101 at 9 a.m. Everybody is moving, but not very fast.

Let private enterprise solve the problem, not city taxpayers

Posted by JA3
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 15, 2013 at 11:35 am

"Let private enterprise solve the problem, not city taxpayers."

Agreed in full; +1^10*999999

Posted by be careful ATT unions
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2013 at 11:37 am

Lots of Post here are obviously to favor Private Companies, and Unions. I would rather have the CPAU adding another line to my Utilities bill: "Fiber Optics to my house". than have to pay ATT for that under-rated U-verse service.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Instead of flying off to Kansas City, why not just ask Google why Palo Alto wasn't selected? Last time I looked they were in Mountain View, you know, the town that borders Palo Alto to the south.

Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm

@mutti - Yes, private enterprise should solve the problem, but PA can't just sit around and wait for it to happen. Comcast and ATT have an effective monopoly on service, and aren't incentivized to improve, and are incentivized to block competition. PA needs to proactively go out and bring in a private company to deal with this, even if it means handing over the existing fiber assets, or finding ways to subsidize the last mile build out.

Posted by Carlitos Waysmann
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Posted by be careful ATT unions, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, 3 hours ago

>Lots of Post here are obviously to favor Private Companies, and ?
>Unions. I would rather have the CPAU adding another line to my >Utilities bill: "Fiber Optics to my house". than have to pay ATT for >that under-rated U-verse service.

You don't make any sense by saying that a lot of posts here favor private business and Unions; how about the CPAU and its City Employees Union?

Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2013 at 3:45 pm

This article is hard evidence that the city council is benefiting from the legalization of medical marijuana.

Posted by G_in_G_out
a resident of Community Center
on May 15, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Guess everyone try to come here to learn a thing cause we're at the heart of SV. Just flush it!

Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2013 at 5:21 pm

I'm personally not a fan of relying on any sort of wireless technology to give us broadband. The only reason why AT&T and Verizon want to kill their copper is because they are able to sell internet that's metered (see how much you pay for 2G of wireless with your iPhone?).

While they're trying to do the same with wired broadband, it hasn't stuck.

That Samsung thing for 5G won't happen for another 5 years (at least).

How about if Palo Alto privatize the fiber ring and let someone else make it useful. Clearly government is doing its usual thing of being incompetent and larding it up with excessive costs to cover its wasteful spending.

Posted by Gargoyle
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on May 15, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Shocking that the birthplace of Silicon Valley is so backward about fiber!

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2013 at 6:57 pm

It isn't just Broadband, wifi, that we are behind third world countries. It is all sorts of high tech communications.

The BBC has split signal technology which enables several different Olympic sports to be broadcast at the same time, for example. It also has a news channel which is on a continuous loop whereby when you switch on the channel there are 6 different stories which you can choose between and then listen for 15 minutes to get the complete story with live time as to how long since it was updated.

Most of our overseas visitors to this part of the world cannot believe how backward communications in this country are.

Posted by GilliganBob
a resident of Community Center
on May 15, 2013 at 8:38 pm

"We are continuing to make money at a rate of $2 million to $2.5 million,". But I am confused about the charter of the city..
For residents, we are continue to pay higher service costs with less services. Our City never try to modernize our library system and to rebuild them with brand new books and materials. Are we all living in the Gilligan's island??

Posted by Sommelier
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2013 at 8:57 am

It is shameful that this city is so backward! The city council, and whatever powers that be, are. All educated well enough to know better..... Or did they simply stop learning after the finished school? The birthplace of Silicon Valley was in a garage on Addison; we should at least honor that bry staying "au courant" with technology in Palo Alto.

Posted by not a fan of private vendors
a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I'm not so sure whether private companies always deliver better service. Wonder how many outages the lucky subscribers to the fiber service have had? I have periodic outages with my Comcast service, and just spent the past 4 days (yes, 4 days) without any internet service at my home, thanks to their poor service. I'm not impressed, and I crave a service with the reliability of my City utilities.

Posted by Julian
a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Two council members on a junket. More committees. All for a subject in an area where there's a TON of expertise available within ten miles. Bye bye fiber - Just like BSOD, this must be PACMSOD : Palo Alto City Management Screen of Death. (Sorry, couldn't think of anything shorter.)

Posted by Ben
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Same old Palo Alto Process! It took forever to get cable in PaloAlto, because the city government took forever to get a "perfect" system, Cable Co-op. Guess what? It wasn't economically realistic, and now we have commercial Comca$t.

Fiber in Palo isn't affordable to MANY residents. We aren't all wealthy, in spite of the sterotype. If average residents can't afford it, it won't work.

In the meantime, the years are going by, and other technologies will provide better alternatives.

Also, if the current fiber service to the few is making so much money, how about the City using that money to reduce our utility bills, instead of gouging us to pay for other city services?

Posted by Brad
a resident of Barron Park
on May 17, 2013 at 3:46 pm

The sheer volume of data is one reason video strikes fear into the hearts of both wireless and wireline network operators, the Sandvine Report is saying. The rapid growth in data usage is another.
Web Link

Palo Alto needs to get its act together fast with fiber, we need the bandwidth, whether our community realizes it or not. When you have inadequate electric capacity relative to demand, rolling blackouts are one solution.

In the communications world, when you have inadequate network capacity relative to demand, you get no service. The Boston Marathon bombing, and the immediate congestion on all telecom and cellular networks (people speculated that some higher power turned them off, they didn't, the networks simply got overloaded and stopped working for everyone), should have taught us all a valuable lesson.

The BIG ONE is inevitable for Palo Alto. Robust communications are within our reach, if Palo Alto acts soon. The private sector will not, guaranteed.

Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 18, 2013 at 8:46 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

My monthly internet bill is growing. The only choices are AT&T or Comcast and their rates seem in parity and increasing. A couple of other providers (Raw Band Width and require as part of their offering an AT&T land line, and their download maxed at about 3MB. While their monthly bill might be lower, one is forced to buy an AT&T landline to use a weak offering.

I look to Fiber perhaps to bring more competition to the internet service marketplace. Could a fiber option be conducted in a private/public arrangement? Could various companies maintain gateway services (almost as an ISP), but the fiber line from the home to the gateway to the Internet would be publicly owned.

With Fiber perhaps we would return to where consumer might have multiple ISP providers. Companies like Raw Band Width and Sonic would have another opportunity to compete. We would return to having 4 or 5 choices which would likely cause softening in monthly internet rates.

As a pocket book matter, I support the City exploring fiber. Aside from the infrastructure costs to install fiber, it would be great to see the business models showing if competitive monthly rates could be brought to Palo Alto homes and businesses.

Posted by jake
a resident of Community Center
on May 18, 2013 at 10:18 am

The city cannot maintain the work above ground properly (libraries..) How could one rely on them for any underground operation? The cost will be much much higher than you expect!

Posted by just thinkin'
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2013 at 4:11 pm

As it has been pointed out previously:
1) The world is going wireless - let us be the fisrt in a field of one; 2)In an atteprt to be one of the world's "greenest" cities, let's bury miles and miles of plastic under our streets.....

Posted by just thinkin'
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Sorry about typos, arthritis getting to me-- Should be "first in fiber"....

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