As of last week, San Francisco is the first major city in the United States to commit to connecting each of its homes and businesses to a fiber optic network. The Fiber for San Francisco Initiative has recommended that procurement for a fiber optic network in San Francisco begin “as early as possible.”
While San Francisco is one of the country’s technology hotspots, its internet connectivity isn’t too great. It’s not uncommon to find pages loading slowly; like many regions in the US, the infrastructure doesn’t take full advantage of modern technology.
The fact of the matter is that the private sector sees no real reason to install a fiber optic network, given that it takes an enormous amount of time, effort, and money. Even Google’s Fiber program, while well-received by users, was eventually discontinued because it was so difficult to put in place.
Comcast has made no plans to introduce a fiber optic network, and it’s the dominant force among the city’s internet providers. Officially, AT&T is planning to implement fiber infrastructure in the city, but its progress on similar projects elsewhere in the US has been very slow going. The other providers that serve San Francisco don’t have the means or motivation to put in a network that serves the entire municipality in place.
Here’s the bigger issue: fast, reliable internet is necessary for improvements to various other essential public services. If we want to advance our efforts in healthcare, education, energy usage, and the growth of industry, strong internet connectivity is a prerequisite. Cities that have already installed fiber-optic networks, like Chattanooga, Tennessee, have seen a boom in jobs and local economic growth. Yet currently, only 95 communities in the US have city-wide fiber optics installed.
Eight years ago, a report commissioned by the city of San Francisco suggested that a fiber network would be the best route to pursue. However, a previous attempt to offer citywide internet access ended in failure, so a great deal of preliminary research has been carried out over the last several years.
A new report by Fiber for San Francisco goes into detail on how the city might execute these plans. Fiber would be laid down in two primary categories; a ‘dark’ skeleton that provides infrastructure without a retail relationship, much like a public works construction, and ‘lit’ sections that internet service providers could use to funnel access to their customers.
This method would allow for harmony between public and private interests. Internet service providers wouldn’t be as likely to combat the project, as they would be able to take advantage of the end result. If it comes to pass, and it’s a success, San Francisco could set a precedent for other cities to follow.