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Life Under Capped ‘n Tiered Municipal Broadband – San Bruno, California

Phillip Dampier June 1, 2009 Community Networks, Time Warner Cable 7 Comments

sbmtvNot every municipal broadband provider assures customers of a cap-free broadband experience.  Some of the smaller providers serving the municipalities that cable passed by constructed their own networks decades ago to meet the cable television needs of their citizens.  But because they lack the economy of scale, volume discounts the big boys get are simply not available to smaller independents.  Often the result is a system compelled to charge higher prices, because its wholesale costs are greater.  That’s the case in San Bruno, California — a city of 40,000 12 miles south of San Francisco.

San Bruno Municipal Cable TV has been the incumbent, municipally owned operator since its inception in 1971.  In the late 1960s, local government officials asked residents whether they preferred a private or municipal operator.  The majority wanted local government to provide the service, and so it did.  San Bruno was an early adopter of cable television, building a system at least a decade before many other communities across the country saw their first cable television truck.

San Bruno is surrounded by Comcast, which has made a conscious decision to avoid San Bruno, despite the fact it could apply for a franchise, and one would likely be granted.

The company introduced broadband service to its customers in 1999 after completing a system rebuild.  Historically, the company has always made usage limits a part of its acceptable use policy, and enforcement over the years has varied between throttling speeds once a limit was reached, to threats of overlimit fees as high as $10/GB.  But most customers report those kinds of fees were never actually charged.  The company sought to use the limits to scare people into compliance.

San Bruno, California

San Bruno, California

Today, San Bruno’s cable TV company has three tiers of broadband service defined by consumption levels – 50, 100, and 150GB per month.  The company defends these policies by indicating their wholesale costs are higher to obtain Internet connectivity.  San Bruno’s high speed provider has fewer than 5,000 broadband subscribers.  Despite those higher costs, the company’s current “overlimit” fee is $0.25/GB, which is much lower than TWC’s proposed $1-2/GB overlimit fee.

So what do customers think?  Online reviews are consistently negative about the quality of service, and we’ve received many complaints about the consumption-based tiering, particularly when nearby Comcast customers live under a simple “please don’t exceed 250GB with a residential account per month” policy.  But San Bruno residents enjoy a respectable 12Mbps/512Kbps level of service for $32.95 a month, $10 less than Comcast subscribers pay, as long as they avoid exceeding 50GB of usage per month.

What everyone agrees on is the need for additional competition.  Currently, AT&T offers 3Mbps DSL service in parts of San Bruno for around $40 a month.  That’s hardly comparable in speed or cost.  Comcast has refused to compete across San Bruno, so another cable provider is unlikely.  Ultimately, the deployment of AT&T U-verse, if it happens, would be the closest equivalent competitor, because it can match and exceed the municipal cable provider’s speeds.

Another compelling question — why does San Bruno Municipal Cable, serving fewer than 5,000 broadband customers, find that charging just a quarter per gigabyte in overlimit fees recoups their expenses, while the far larger TWC proposes charging considerably more — $1-2/GB?  Perhaps overlimit fees aren’t as much about cost recovery as they are about emotionally conditioning customers to ration their use out of fear of a shocking cable broadband bill with overlimit fees at the end of the month.


Currently there are 7 comments on this Article:

  1. San Bruno Person says:

    I am currently on San Bruno Cable… and I definitely do not get 12Mbps service… They claim I do.. but even using their own speed test utility: http://speedtest.snbr.cablerocket.net/

    I get about 3 Mbps… and many many times even less than 1 Mbps.

    On top of that.. sometimes in the middle of web browsing.. the connection cuts off…

    I don’t have a choice on who I can use for internet. Even AT&T DSL is not available… I wonder why not!!!

  2. San Bruno Persona 2 says:

    I very much agree with San Bruno Person. San Bruno Cable TV is ridiculous. I joined for only one year, I can use my fingers to count the times I see the speed at 10Mpbs. No matter how I complaint to San Bruno Cable TV, this slow internet issue remains the same. Ever since the beginning of 2010, the speed is between 25kb – 1Mpbs. Sometimes I am not even able to check the internet speed (www.speedtest.net) because the page can’t load due to slow internet connections. Before San Bruno Cable TV, I used AT&T. At that time, their maxium downstream is 3.0Mpbs. But the maximum speed I can actually use is 1.5Mpbs or less due to the distance between my home and their dsl service center. So many complaint about San Bruno Cable TV, I wonder why the San Bruno city is not looking into this issue. For all those who would like to know more about this, check San Bruno Cable TV’s rating at Yelp.

  3. San Bruno Person3 says:

    I am also having problems with San Bruno Municipal Cable TV. Started with problems in August/September 2009…. For almost a week, I couldn’t get any internet connection. Then one weekend, I couldn’t watch any TV programs at all. Yeah… They send a note in one of their bills offering a discount of a few dollars off, and they admitted they were having problems with their equipment or cable or whatever it was… But no apologies or any mention about those of us who couldn’t connect to the internet…

    Started having problems again beginning of this year, with the occasional problems of the connection getting timed out. Problem got worse 3 weeks ago. In the beginning, I thought it was because of the rain…. Whenever there was a storm, I would have problems with slow connection or non-connection. But we have not had any storms the last couple of weeks. Yet I keep getting connection timed out. And I’m still getting the occasional “blank” recorded programs on my VCR… or I’d watching the recorded program and getting a blank screen on my TV halfway through…

    I don’t care that much if I can’t watch the TV programs occasionally. But then, it’s a such a pain trying to surf the net when the connection keeps getting cut.

    Customer service at San Bruno Cable TV also leaves much to be desired. If someone finally answers the phone, she (it’s always a female working there who answers the phone) would put you on hold indefinitely. The office is probably getting more complaints than they can handle!

  4. San Bruno Person 4 says:

    I came across this while considering whether to dump my AT&T DSL and go for San Bruno cable. I think I’ll stay with AT&T.

    I pay $40/month for 6Mb/s down (not 3Mb/s), and 768kb/s up with AT&T DSL Elite, which very consistently works out as 5Mb/s down and 600kb/s up. I never see it vary from those speeds by any significant amount. I’d rather have the consistency than the rarely kept promise of 12Mb/s.

    • I think AT&T has the potential of giving San Bruno Cable major headaches, especially in U-verse is in San Bruno’s future. I am not sure about the upgrade schedule for AT&T California, but you might want to make inquiries with AT&T about whether U-verse is forthcoming there. San Bruno isn’t exactly in the middle of a desert, so I can’t believe it won’t be forthcoming at some point.

      It sounds like San Bruno is stuck with a municipal provider that is slow to adopt improved technology. Competition typically solves that.

  5. San Bruno Dude says:

    I’ve been a long time user of San Bruno Cable internet, pretty much since it was introduced to us when it was ISP Channel, then changed over to @home, and then to what is it now with a modem change over to the Motorola SB3100. When I first used it in 99/2000, it was pretty blazing fast probably due to the fact probably less than 50 people subscribed and comparing it to 56k dial up. Over my time of use, there was times that its good and stable and sometimes it just made me want to throw the modem across the room. There would be times that it would cut out for hours and even days. Speedwise, I am getting the same what everyone else is reporting. An average of 3mbs/down and .30mps/up. About 2-3 weeks ago, I was getting dropped about every 1-5 minutes everyday. I eventually just bought a new Motorola SB6120 Surboard eXtreme and so far running good for 2 days. I tested it at speedtest.net and was able to pull a high of 8mbs/down and .31mbs/up. The new modem is a DOCSIS 3 but have no clue if San Bruno Cable is a DOCSIS 1/1.1/2? I’ve been always looking for an alternative and whenever a ComCast rep tries to pitch a sale to me, i’d tell them they don’t service my city and they already know where I’m from.

  6. San Bruno Dude says:

    Modem: Motorola SB6120
    Computer: MacBook Pro
    Time: 10:33pm 3/22/10
    Location: Lower, East Avenues
    8.30up / .30 down

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