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Independent Gigabit Broadband for San Francisco, While AT&T Struggles to Provide U-verse

Phillip Dampier December 15, 2011 AT&T, Broadband Speed, Competition, Data Caps, Sonic.net No Comments

While AT&T endures zoning-related delays to build out its fiber-to-the-neighborhood service U-verse, a scrappy anti-cap, pro-speed Internet provider in Santa Rosa has announced its intention to deliver gigabit speeds to San Franciscans over a fiber-to-the-home network that will begin construction early next year.

Sonic.net has been providing broadband services for years in northern California, using AT&T’s network of phone lines to deliver unlimited 20Mbps DSL service (including a phone line) for $40 a month.

Sunset District, San Francisco, Calif. (Courtesy: Stilfehler)

Now the company is branching beyond traditional DSL into fiber optics.  Sonic.net has already completed the first phase of its gigabit fiber network in Sebastopol, where it advertises 100Mbps service for $40 a month and 1000Mbps for $70 a month, both including phone service at no extra charge (two lines for the 1Gbps plan).

In San Francisco, Sonic plans to start with 2000 homes in the Sunset District, expanding its network to fully cover the city within five years.

Such a network could deliver serious competition to Comcast and AT&T, the currently-dominant providers.  AT&T’s U-verse buildout has been stalled over the need to install 768 large, unsightly metal cabinets on San Francisco street corners.  The company, as late as this summer, remains mired in zoning disputes and public protests.  Sonic’s fiber network will require similar equipment, and the San Francisco Chronicle reports Sonic filed its own application with the city Department of Public Works to install 188 cabinets, measuring 5 feet tall, starting next year.

Sonic may have a better chance if only because it does not have AT&T’s less-than-stellar reputation among some residents and customers who have been upset with the company’s wireless performance, and ongoing battles over cell tower placement.  Sonic.net CEO Dane Jasper tells the Chronicle:

“There is a huge demand in San Francisco for higher bandwidth services, and fiber is the only long-term way to meet this demand,” he said.

Given the fact that the company’s all-fiber network will bring “the fastest and cheapest” broadband service to the city, Jasper says he thinks the chances of overcoming the obstacles experienced by his larger rival are “pretty good.”

Sonic.net has gained a reputation for excellent customer service and vociferously opposes usage caps and other Internet Overcharging schemes.  The company has attracted the support of Google, which is using Sonic to manage its gigabit fiber network on the campus grounds of Stanford University in Palo Alto.

AT&T has previously dismissed fiber to the home service as too costly to provide, and has adopted in its place a fiber-to-the-neighborhood system that relies on traditional home phone wiring for the last part of its network.

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