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Palo Alto charts new path for planned fiber network

Original post made on May 24, 2017

Two decades after Palo Alto launched its mission of bringing ultra-high-speed internet to every home, the tortuous path is taking another sharp turn.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, May 23, 2017, 11:21 PM

Comments (19)

Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 24, 2017 at 10:43 am

Those who put all their eggs in the wireless basket should hope the sunspot cycles will remain benign.


Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on May 24, 2017 at 11:26 am

20 years of work and nothing usable in the realistic future? Sounds like a big waste of taxpayer money.


Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 24, 2017 at 12:01 pm

@Norman, yes sunspots can wreak havoc on my shortwave. :)


Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 24, 2017 at 2:01 pm

Given the security and reliability issues with wireless, I'm still interested in a physical connection (be it fiber or copper) for the last mile. I wonder if this new plan would allow individuals or groups to pay for a connection at the node.


Posted by High Speed Fan
a resident of Barron Park
on May 24, 2017 at 2:35 pm

For a FTTN solution, are we talking about nodes co-located with the POTS copper nodes where the phone line from your house connects to the line to the central office? -- if so, can the city strike a deal with AT&T to access the last mile of copper? Will city fiber nodes have battery backup so they'll be operational during power outages? I'm afraid that we'll see the city build fiber nodes which are not in the right place or correctly provisioned for any other provider to take on building the node-to-home infrastructure. I'm glad the city is at least breaking even on the existing fiber service, but I really wish they had embarked on the FTTH build 10+ years ago...


Posted by Robert
a resident of University South
on May 24, 2017 at 5:53 pm

This is pathetic! 20 years and nothing to show for it for at least another 20. The city should just give the network to a third party in exchange for a full build out.


Posted by Yimbytastic
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 24, 2017 at 7:36 pm

"This is pathetic! 20 years and nothing to show for it for at least another 20. The city should just give the network to a third party in exchange for a full build out."

Perhaps it is time to hire a consultant and do a study on the problem? Otherwise we cannot really have a meaningful dialogue on the issue. The fees from the Residential Parking Permit Program, being all gravy, can be used to fund the study.


Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 24, 2017 at 10:50 pm

Fibered-up nodes are worthless if nothing connects downstream of them. Build something that's immediately useful or don't build anything.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 24, 2017 at 11:49 pm

Why is Palo Alto wasting more money on this when they obviously don't have the expertise and while we're supposedly running a deficit? Does PA really think it can or should compete with the likes of Comcast and AT&T? This smacks of delusions of grandeur like the "Grand Boulevard" initiative to turn El Camino into a Parisian boulevard. Nuts.

I know someone who was involved in the first go-round and he said the city couldn't get out of its own way and let the professionals do it. Why should this time be any different?


Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on May 25, 2017 at 11:00 am

These nodes may be useful to businesses who can afford to install their own cables from the nodes to their businesses. Maybe new housing developments can connect as part of their construction costs. The city is essentially telling current homeowners to forget about it.


Posted by Bob
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 25, 2017 at 11:38 am

While I am disappointed that this isn't fiber to the home, it is a step in that direction. It can be paid for by the current surplus. Just do it.

I would like to see more detail on the cost estimates for fiber to the home, how expensive it can it be be to run new wires on the existing Palo Alto utility poles? "$50 million to $78 million" seems like a lot for this. Fiber technology is greatly improved and much lower cost than it was two decades ago.

I hope the FTTN will allow a range of organizations and residents to connect. It would be good to use this to try out various approaches to connecting homes, e.g., Wireless, Fiber, Copper. Let's find out what works.


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 25, 2017 at 11:41 am

@resident writes "The city is essentially telling current homeowners to forget about it."

The typical message to residents from the ridiculously business-friendly city and city council.


Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 25, 2017 at 5:30 pm

"While I am disappointed that this isn't fiber to the home, it is a step in that direction. It can be paid for by the current surplus. Just do it."

I disagree. This proposal for an incomplete, but costly, fiber system is at best a giveaway of general taxpayer money to those who can afford to run a connection from their homes or businesses to a node. Nothing beyond that is assured.

We have other urgent uses for that money which benefit everyone, like upgrading our parks and getting new ones.


Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 25, 2017 at 7:40 pm

@Curmudgeon: While I usually find plenty in your postings to support, I'll push back on this one. :-)

We don't know enough about pricing yet to say who would be able to afford a connection or whether the City's costs would be recoverable over some reasonable time. We don't know enough about the infrastructure to say whether a connection could be shared effectively.

As for other uses for the money that would benefit everyone, I'd argue for improved transportation ahead of new parks. And better communications might reduce the need for transportation expenditures.

Skepticism is appropriate here, but the information is too incomplete to draw all negative conclusions.


Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on May 25, 2017 at 9:54 pm

"We don't know enough about pricing yet to say who would be able to afford a connection or whether the City's costs would be recoverable over some reasonable time. We don't know enough about the infrastructure to say whether a connection could be shared effectively."

Fair enough. So we ought to hold off until we do know enough. Like, check if there's water in the pool before diving in.


Posted by Jeff Hoel
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 1, 2017 at 4:19 pm

@Online Name (05-24-17) -- This interactive database says 187 municipalities have their own FTTP networks.
Web Link
Most are able to do very well despite competition from incumbents like AT&T and Comcast.

What are you saying the "first go-around" was?


Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 1, 2017 at 6:28 pm

"Most are able to do very well despite competition from incumbents like AT&T and Comcast."

Meaningless. Let's try for some meat:

Most, huh? What happened to the others? How badly did they fare, and what lessons can/should Palo Alto learn from their goofups?


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 1, 2017 at 6:53 pm

The "first go-round" was about 20 or 25 years ago when the city first explored bringing internet connectivity to residents' homes and used a pretty famous techie to develop a plan to do so. (Actually it was the 2d attempt because they first envisioned using 2-way cable but that's a different story.)

Because of the involvement of people at all levels of the city govt -- esp. the non-techies -- it because the proverbial "horse designed by committee" and the guy still laughs at the ridiculously complicated way the city wanted people to connect.


Posted by Jeff Hoel
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 7, 2017 at 2:02 pm

@Online Name (06-01-17 and 05-24-17) -- I'd be interested in more specifics about the "first go-round." Who was the "pretty famous techie"? Who were the "professionals"?

I don't think the City was doing anything about providing internet access to premises during the time from 1992 to 1997 ("20 or 25 years ago").

In 1996, the City decided to build a dark fiber network, where the city provides just the fiber connections and customers provide the electronics. The City made an initial investment of about $2 million. The dark fiber network has proven to be spectacularly successful, currently bringing in net revenues of between $2.5 million and $3 million annually. But it isn't FTTP.

In 1985, the City franchised Cable Co-op to provide cable TV service in Palo Alto (and Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto, and some unincorporated areas).
Web Link
Years ago, Marvin Lee told me that a competing entity, led by Walter Hewlett, wanted to use at least some fiber optics to build the network infrastructure, and that, in hindsight, the Cable Co-op people might have done better to have joined forces with that entity rather than just outcompeting it.

By 1997, Cable Co-op had developed the capability to offer internet service over its all-coax infrastructure, and had deployed it to some parts of town, but its primary focus was on resolving its financial difficulties.
Web Link

Anyhow, I don't see why you think the City's experience in the 1990s is a good predictor of its behavior now.


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