San Francisco May Take FTTH With Its WiFi
The Mayor's office last year allocated $300,000 to study the feasibility and costs of building an FTTH network. The resulting study, conducted by the consulting firm Columbia Telecommunications Corp. , was delivered in late January. "In the long term this is something that is feasible, based on what the study says," notes Ron Vincent, a spokesman for the City's Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS).
According to the report, the cost of building a muni fiber network in San Francisco could range from $500 million to $1 billion. Vincent estimates it would be about three times that when all is said and done. By contrast, EarthLink has said the planned WiFi network will cost $15 million over the next ten years.
Vincent makes clear that a new FTTH network would compliment, not supercede, the city's controversial WiFi network. Several activist groups have called on the city to scrap the WiFi plan in favor of a fiber network owned entirely by the city. This, they say, would deliver a lot more bandwidth for the buck, and would do more to connect the "have-nots" on the other side of the Digital Divide. (See SF's Muni Mesh Mess.)
The Mayor's office believes a combo network might be best, Vincent says. "Even if you had fiber-to-the-home today, you still don't have the mobility of WiFi, so WiFi compliments such an initiative," he says. "You can't put fiber in a police car; you're still going to need some type of WiFi in order to be mobile."
FTTH would certainly be better than WiFi for in-home applications. According to the Google/EarthLink proposal, the San Francisco WiFi service would offer users a top speed of around 1 Mbit/s downstream and upstream (for $22 a month). FTTH networks, on the other hand, are capable of delivering up to 100 Mbit/s of bandwidth to the home. (See FTTH Hits Mainstream.)
Vincent says Amsterdam is being used as a model for a possible San Francisco network. Amsterdam is just getting underway with a muni fiber build, which the city expects will take ten years to complete.
Vincent says a special body comprised of three city supervisors and one member of the public is now considering the idea. One of the three city supervisors is Tom Ammiano, who initially proposed studying the muni fiber idea.
Naturally, the FTTH idea isn't getting good reviews from the local utilities.
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) spokesman Gordon Diamond had no comment for Light Reading, but AT&T external affairs area manager Kenneth Mintz was interviewed by the authors of the feasibility report. "The circumstances that would justify a municipal broadband project simply do not exist in San Francisco," Mintz says in the report. Mintz says that "service gaps" in San Francisco are "perceived, not real," and that AT&T does not recognize a need for San Francisco to consider either wireless or FTTP infrastructure.
"If the City deploys fiber, why should AT&T bother with any investments in the community?" Mintz asks.
Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) spokesman Andrew Johnson tells Light Reading that San Francisco need look no further than across the Bay to the City of Alameda to see why muni FTTH is a bad idea. Alameda passed a ballot initiative in 1998 to become a fiber-based TV and Internet services provider, going head-to-head with Comcast in the East Bay. Johnson points to local news reports saying that the six-year-old Alameda muni FTTH project has already received $43 million in bailouts and is still losing money.
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading