Boxed out

Fiber-optic proponents think beyond AT&T's proposed network upgrades

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SF needs to plan its communications infrastructure beyond the hundreds of unsightly metal boxes that AT&T wants to install.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY BEN HOPFER

rebeccab@sfbg.com

The Board of Supervisors is gearing up to revisit whether telecommunications giant AT&T should be permitted to install 726 new metal boxes on city sidewalks for a communications network upgrade, without completing an environmental impact review.

At an April 26 meeting, the board spent several tedious hours listening to concerns such as whether the boxes would attract graffiti or clutter the sidewalks, and debated the finer points of whether the project could legally be considered exempt, ultimately resolving to take up the issue again May 24.

Meanwhile, a small cadre of tech-savvy San Franciscans has seized on this debate as an opportunity to drum up enthusiasm for an alternate vision of a citywide communications future, one with faster connection speeds that wouldn't necessarily be controlled by the AT&T and Comcast duopoly.

At the meeting, AT&T California President Ken McNeely, dressed in a sharp suit, trumpeted the company's proposed upgrade, part of a new system called U-verse. "This is the largest single upgrade to the San Francisco local phone network in more than a century," he said. "Our network will provide the next-generation IP technologies that San Francisco needs to provide if it wants to continue to attract the best and brightest in the region."

Yet Rudy Rucker, bearded and clad in a camouflage T-shirt, sounded a different note. "The U.S. is No. 30 in the world in Internet speed," he said. "The boxes are not the way to go. What we need to do is rework the entire infrastructure of how we do communications in the city. We're relying on copper lines. We need to pull all those out, recycle the copper, and put in fiber-optic cable." Rucker is a cofounder of MonkeyBrains, an independent Internet service provider (ISP) based in San Francisco.

AT&T's U-verse upgrade would enable it to offer connection speeds three times faster than current service — but not nearly as fast as what fiber proponents envision. Several members of the tech industry interviewed by the Guardian cautioned that another AT&T upgrade might be necessary after less than a decade to keep pace with technological advancement. At that point, it's anyone's guess whether those boxes would continue to be useful. AT&T did not respond to a query from the Guardian.

SPEED FREAKS

When it comes to Internet speeds, the United States trails Asia and some European countries. "We've fallen from first place," said Ashwin Navin, who founded several tech startups including a file-sharing company called BitTorrent. "It's really put our software and technology industry at a disadvantage."

According to a website that compares connection speeds using data compilation, California ranks 23rd in the nation, while San Francisco doesn't even clear the top 30 cities nationwide, Navin noted.

Yet much faster connection speeds are possible — even commonplace — in countries such as Japan and Singapore. "Right now, the average download speed in San Francisco is something around eight megabits," explained Dana Sniezko, who's emerged as a tech activist since creating a website called SF Fiber, which calls for a neutral, open, affordable community fiber network. "What U-verse is going to offer is about three times that. Something like fiber can offer service that's 1,000 megabits [called a gigabit], or even much larger than that. Fiber allows you to really have a huge capacity for the future."

Comments

Yay for Rudy Rucker. Its nice to see science being brought to an argument at city hall. Its probably over the heads of most of the board, but everything they say is correct.

We are behind and AT&T will use this upgrade and the required upgrade in ten years to charge consumers more for less. Its a great business practice and a great way to make lots of money on the backs of saps... and its all enabled by elected officials that AT&T is undoubtedly financially contributing to their campaigns.

5 years ago, I could get 30Mbps in Paris for 12euro a month.

Posted by Guest on May. 12, 2011 @ 10:54 am

We've been telling SF to get behind its own fiber since 2007 - deaf ears.
See communityfiber.org for an independent internet service provider's response to the FCC's gutting of the unbundling rules that allowed small ISPs to compete on the market.

If you wait for AT&T to give you fiber or anything faster than 50 megabits, you'll probably die waiting. Maybe the activists in SF can finally get some traction. But, my bet is on continued industry stonewall coupled with too many libertarians opposed to letting people try Socialism "just because they want to", and I predict the move in SF for community services (anything like citywide) will founder.

Take a look at uctelecommunications.com - that is the business you'd like to deal with: they sell the services that you want; they try to make it affordable; and their ultimate goal, oddly enough for a for-profit corporation, is to convince people that they do in fact dearly want to own and control their own GIGABIT services over FIBER - by providing immediate demonstrations of such networks in operation.

Get Rudy Rucker together with those guys and see what happens.

Posted by Community Fiber on May. 13, 2011 @ 12:02 am

Fiber optic cable?

Only way to get that is to get a Mayor who won't bend over and tear his tush in half spreading for AT&T. Right now all we have is John Avalos. I'm poor and I give $20 a month to campaigns during season and thus far I've given him $30. You should all do the same and fill out the card for matching funds for him.

Avalos for Mayor!

Adachi for Mayor!!

Gonzalez for Mayor!!

Daly's Dive noon to 3 pm for Bulldog Salon today.

All you doubters, the Giants are back in 1st place!!

Giants 11:35am today

h.

Posted by Guest h. brown on May. 13, 2011 @ 9:48 am

Just because AT&T says they are going to put in faster service doesn't mean we'll get it. Everything comes at a price. All of these companies throttle the service and now AT&T has placed a data cap on its service. This is ridiculous. We need to have an open public option. The everlasting battle between long term cost vs short term gain. *sigh* -_-

Posted by hP on May. 16, 2011 @ 11:15 pm

What is really "evil" about this deployment is that the CLEC are
literally being "clipped" out of the loop here. When the phone company was de-regulated, competitive local exchange carriers (CLEC) can rent the copper that goes from the central office (CO) to the street address. A CLEC like Sonic.net, RawBandwidth, etc. can put in gear at the CO and provide a competitive broadband services.

With the U-Verse roll-out, ATT will be bringing in fiber to the neighborhood and cutting the copper that goes back to the CO and terminating it on the U-Verse gear. In effect prohibiting the CLECs from competing with ATT.

This is what you should be screaming about.

Tim Pozar
Community Broadband Activist

Posted by Guest on May. 17, 2011 @ 8:36 am