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Man rallies neighbors to build their own fiber-optic network

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A group of Los Altos Hills, California residents are taking on Internet giants Comcast and AT&T.

Residents of tech-rich but internet-poor Silicon Valley were fed up with slow broadband speeds, with downloads below 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and uploads below 3 Mbps.

Frustrated by the insignificance of Internet providers, they created their own solution.

Software engineer Scott Vanderlip said Comcast offered a $17,000 quote to connect his house to a neighbor’s faster Internet service.

“You’re kidding, I can see a utility pole from my driveway,” said Vanderlip, recalling the reaction to Comcast’s words.

So the self-proclaimed “town rebel” jumped at the chance to partner with a startup Internet service provider called Next Level Networks. If Vanderlip can get a few neighbors willing to invest thousands of dollars, Next Level will give them blazing fast internet.

That was in 2017. Vanderlip is currently president of the Los Altos Hills Community Fiber Association. The association provides over 40 association members with lightning-fast upload and download speeds (up to 10 Gbit/s), allowing them to transfer huge files. Vanderlip said he can load his web pages with the click of a computer mouse.that is 125x faster Faster than the average download speed in Santa Clara County.

The current state of broadband communications — passing large amounts of data from one place to another at the same time — uses telephone wires or copper coaxial cables owned by large companies such as Comcast, Spectrum, and AT&T.

According to the Fiber Broadband Association, this copper-based internet is all available in nearly 60% of US homes. According to Pew’s research, four of her 10 adults with an annual income of less than $30,000 will not have broadband internet access at home in 2021. And many Americans have no internet at all.

“We cannot keep begging Comcasts and AT&Ts around the world to build a network that will make reliable and affordable[Internet]available to everyone in our community,” said the Institute. Sean Gonsalves, who works on community broadband networks at For local independence.

Experts say ultra-fast fiber optic cables are the future of broadband. Instead of using electricity, a small beam of light bounces off the core of a glass or plastic fiber optic cable. Each is the same thickness as a stack of two printer papers.

Gonsalves said the fiber-optic Internet has nearly unlimited capacity because it carries data by light, and the infrastructure is cheaper to maintain than copper cables. Most importantly, Fiber provides the same internet speed when downloading and uploading data. In short, a Zoom video conference is as fast as streaming a movie on Netflix.

Big companies aren’t going to be left behind. In September, Comcast announced the final successful testing of the technology needed to roll out multi-Gbps speeds over existing cable networks to customers over the next few years. statement.

Many towns are dabbling in the idea of ​​building fiber optic infrastructure. Vanderlip and Next Level founder Darrell Gentry first discussed the prospects of piloting his program in the streets of Vanderlip when they met at the town council in 2017.

Los Altos Hills had the ingredients it needed. An enthusiastic, tech-savvy resident with slow internet and plenty of cash to invest in a home. Vanderlip’s house happened to be near a local school and had a spare fiber optic internet connection.

Gentry’s company handled infrastructure procurement, contracting, logistics, and retail, essentially providing turnkey fiber optic internet services to residents. Meanwhile, Vanderlip and her two neighbors each joined with her $5,000 investment to buy fiber optic her infrastructure and crowdsource new members. and planned the first fiber route to their home.

Currently, community-owned fiber optic cable spans 5 miles of Los Altos Hills, with another 2 miles under construction.

Their internet meanders from a data center in Santa Clara along medium-range fiber optic cables tethered to utility poles to a community-owned utility cabinet behind Vanderlip’s house. From there, the fibers travel through his tubes of orange plastic buried under the road by excavators hired by Next Level. After navigating between gas pipes and sewers, individual cables make their way to the homes of community members. House connections depend on distance and construction costs. The highest paid in Los Altos Hills was his $12,000. But other of his Next Level customers in denser areas connect for less, around $2,500.

While many members of the Los Altos Hills Association come from technical backgrounds, Gentry argued that having a partner with the infrastructure know-how necessary to build Internet services is essential. I’m here. But some communities have managed to build internet services from scratch without private companies, he said, Gonsalves. For example, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he provided residents with 1 Gbps fiber optic internet in 2010.

According to Gonsalves, any form of community ownership brings competition to the Internet marketplace and gives consumers a say in pricing and Internet specifications. For example, Next Level customers can choose from 1 to 10 Gbps Internet. If desired, the resident can move to a regional provider such as Sonic at the end of the contract, but most providers prefer to use their own broadband infrastructure.

But that could change when the $42 billion in federal funding allocated for broadband infrastructure from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act becomes available. Gov. Gavin Newsom also approved his $3 billion plan to build his 10,000-mile middle-mile network statewide.

Meanwhile, the Los Altos Hills neighborhood is trying to bring down the $155 monthly cost by recruiting more members. And Vanderlip has a tactic called bragging rights.

“You can go to the next high-end Silicon Valley party and tell them that you have 10 (Gbps) of service,” he said. “Few people in the world offer 10G. We are one of the fastest home broadband providers in the world.”

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