Palo Altans like to think of their City government as forward-thinking, and able to use high-tech to provide world-class essential services.

In 1996, Palo Alto was one of the first cities in the U.S. to deploy a “dark” fiber network (just fiber strands leased to customers, not electronics or services), and it’s been very successful. Dark fiber is great for businesses that can afford to lease it and are savvy enough to provide their own electronics and services. But it’s still out of reach for most homes and small businesses.

Since 1998 or so, the City has episodically studied how to take the next step: deploying and operating a fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network (fiber plus electronics plus services such as internet service), but for one reason or another, City staff and consultants always seem to conclude that it might not be feasible financially, i.e., it might not take in enough revenue from subscribers to pay all the expenses. In the early days, there were few municipal FTTP networks out there for Palo Alto to learn from, but now there are 216, with more coming online all the time. Are all of those municipalities just more tech-savvy than Palo Alto, or richer, or do their residents and businesses just need better internet service than Palo Altans need? I don’t think so.

FTTP technology is vastly superior to the legacy wired technologies the incumbents have been using. (Comcast has been using hybrid fiber coax (HFC); AT&T has been using xDSL and dial-up, although it has recently started to deploy FTTP in a few neighborhoods.) So, when competing with the incumbents, the City would have a technical advantage. Also, the City has a reputation for good customer service regarding its existing utilities, while the incumbents are among the most hated companies in America.

Consider a few examples.

In Longmont, CO, residents who signed up as soon as the service was available in their neighborhoods are getting 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) symmetrical (i.e., same speed up as down) internet service for $49.95 per month. Residents who somehow missed the sign-up deadline can still get the service for $69.95 per month for the first 12 months and $59.95 per month after that. In Sandy, OR, residents can get 1-Gbps symmetrical internet service for $59.95 per month, or 300-Mbps symmetrical internet service for $39.95 per month. In Chattanooga, TN, residents can get 1-Gbps symmetrical internet service for $69.99 per month, or 100-Mbps symmetrical internet service for $57.99 per month, or 10-Gbps symmetrical internet service for $299.00 per month.

FTTP is a “futureproof” technology. Once the fiber cable infrastructure is deployed, it will not need to be upgraded for at least several decades. But customers interested in keeping up with the state of the art in speed might want their electronics upgraded, say, every seven years or so.


Moving Forward

Stay updated by joining the Muni Fiber Palo Alto announcements email list. You can subscribe directly or ask me to add you by sending me a note to info@munifiberpaloalto.org.

If you would like the City of Palo Alto to move faster to deploy citywide municipal FTTP, please let City officials know.  City Council can be reached at city.council@cityofpaloalto.org.  The Utilities Advisory Commission can be reached at uac@cityofpaloalto.org.  We need City Council and UAC to know that the community wants this.

If you would also be willing to attend a Council meeting and/or a UAC meeting and tell City officials in person, that would be great.

Last updated 8/5/2019