Boxed out - Page 2

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

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

Put in practical terms, Sniezko said, the difference between a connection speed of eight megabits and a gigabit amounts to downloading a full-length feature film in 90 minutes, versus several seconds. And since fiber also can deliver faster upload speeds, it opens the door to new possibilities. "It lets individuals potentially come up with really innovative and creative ideas," Sniezko said. "If you wanted to have your own streaming TV channel from your house, you could. Or anything, really."

Fiber already exists under San Francisco city streets — but most places lack the direct connections to homes or businesses, so the capacity is not realized. The city's Department of Technology and Information Services (DTIS) convened a study in 2007 for developing the infrastructure to create a full-fiber network, deeming fiber "the holy grail of communications networking: unlimited capacity, long life, and global reach."

Since then, progress has been slow. AT&T's new system would also be based on fiber, but information would still travel to homes or offices over copper phone lines, resulting in slower speeds than a direct connection could supply.

On a recent afternoon, MonkeyBrains cofounder Alex Menendez scrambled up a ladder leading from his small Potrero Hill office space to show off some rooftop antennas and laser devices. There was a clear view from the flat, sunny roof to the office building the laser was pointed at, many blocks away. Secured to a hand-built metal stand, the gadgets were part of the company's high-speed Internet network, which counts KQED among its roughly 1,000 subscribers.

Menendez was explaining how his small company is able to use these microwave devices in combination with fiber-optic cables to provide high-speed Internet by leapfrogging from node to node throughout San Francisco.

Menendez said he didn't feel strongly one way or another about AT&T's metal boxes. "But it raises a more interesting issue: what's the 50-year-down-the-line solution? There's much better technology out there. It could be super-affordable, with a wide-open, massive amount of bandwidth."

But, he added, it won't happen without the support of local government.


The City and County of San Francisco owns an underground fiber-optic network spanning more than 110 miles, used mostly for municipal and emergency purposes. AT&T has its own fiber — and with a history going back more than a century in San Francisco, it also has a lock on the market.

AT&T owns underground cables, copper phone lines, and rights-of-way, making it necessary for small market players to interface with the corporation and pay fees. This makes it difficult for local ISPs to compete on any meaningful scale. "They have the right to trench the street," Menendez explained. "We don't."

Mendendez and others are looking at micro-trenching as a possible way around this. Last summer, Google hosted an event at its Mountain View headquarters called the Micro-trenching Olympics ("A very Google-y thing to do," according to a company representative speaking in a YouTube video) to find out which contractor could best slice a one-inch wide, nine-inch deep trench in a parking lot and install fiber-optic cable inside. The idea behind micro-trenching is that it's fast and minimally disruptive — and best of all, it doesn't interfere with existing infrastructure, so there's no need to pay a fee to AT&T, or any other company.

Some in the tech community are hoping it will signify a new and efficient way to link fiber-optic cable directly to homes and businesses, ultimately resulting in the kind of Internet speed that would let you download a movie in less than ten seconds. With micro-trenching, there would be no need for utility boxes.


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 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 - 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


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, 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