San Francisco Report Makes Case for Citywide Fiber Network

  • Broadband Institute of California
SAN FRANCISCO — Supervisor Mark Farrell released the first report from his Municipal Fiber Blue Ribbon Panel: "Why Fiber? Should San Francisco Deploy a Citywide Broadband Network?" The panel’s report establishes why the city and county of San Francisco should play a greater role in the delivery of Internet access to its residents. It also establishes why San Francisco should consider building a fiber-optic network to every home and business in San Francisco. The report, approved by the panel’s subcommittee on technology and infrastructure, is the first in a series of reports that the panel will release.

“The digital divide in San Francisco is marginalizing generations of San Franciscans,” said Farrell. “Every resident, business, and nonprofit deserves access to fast, affordable, and reliable broadband to compete in the 21st century.”

Internet Independence from Traditional ISPs
“Reasonably-priced fiber optic last-mile internet access to every home and business is now standard in several Asian and Northern European countries, and the report represents a first step in a deliberate process aimed at ensuring that the economic growth and social justice benefits of this connectivity are experienced by every San Francisco resident,” said Harvard Law Professor Susan Crawford.

“The timely report is a critical step by San Francisco to take charge of it digital destiny by declaring its internet independence from traditional ISPs,” said Santa Clara Law Professor Allen Hammond.

Social and Economic Benefits of Fiber
The panel’s report cites research and studies that build a strong case for why San Francisco should oversee the construction of a citywide open access municipal fiber network. With access to fast and affordable Internet an essential part of daily life, the report details the numerous social and economic benefits that San Francisco residents, businesses, and nonprofits should expect to receive after residences and businesses are connected to an open access citywide fiber broadband network.

Fiber Gains to Increase Exponentially
The panel’s report cites research and studies that show why fiber-optic strands are the international industry standard for providing the fastest and most reliable Internet connection across the last mile — the section of the network connected to homes and businesses. Fiber provides the highest possible internet speeds and data capacity — the gains will increase exponentially compared to other technologies — all without having to rebuild a new network in the future once the initial strands have been installed.

Fiber Needed to Support Advanced Wireless Services

Additionally, the report details why a basic citywide fiber broadband network, made available to competing retail providers will outcompete older, slower internet access networks made up of copper or co-axial cable networks. And, why mobile, or wireless only internet options are not sufficient means of fast and reliable Internet connection because they are more susceptible to interferences that slow, or disrupt internet connection. Advanced wireless services will, in fact, require fiber to be in place to function.

Further, the panel’s report cites studies that show when cities construct or offer basic fiber infrastructure, they enhance competition and market choices, and don’t eliminate the market for directly serving customers. With the right “open access” policy in place, Internet Service Providers could use the City’s fiber network in competition with one another in order to deliver higher quality services at lower prices.

“The private sector has failed to provide fast and affordable Internet service on its own,” said Farrell. “It’s time for cities to get involved and close the digital divide.”

The report says that while private companies will understandably focus on their own economic interests, local governments are more likely to consider a broader range of issues, such as ensuring service to the underserved and other broader social and economic goals. The private market has little to no incentive to prioritize communities most affected by the digital divide. The big Internet access companies generally do not take action to improve pricing or upgrade networks until market competition spurs them to action.

Prioritizing Underserved Communities
Lastly, the panel’s report highlights how through overseeing the construction of a basic citywide fiber broadband network San Francisco can prioritize serving underserved communities. Further, the Panel’s report calls on San Francisco to create a fund to allocate resources for equipment and digital literacy training for low-access, multilingual, and low-income residents across San Francisco.

Supervisor Farrell’s Municipal Fiber Blue Ribbon Panel is composed of nationally recognized Internet access, business, and privacy experts. This report was produced by Harvard Law Professor Susan Crawford and the Panel’s subcommittee on technology and infrastructure.

The subcommittee is chaired by Allen Hammond, a Santa Clara law professor and director of the Broadband Institute of California. For nearly quarter century, Professor Hammond has been an active advocate for public access to broadcast, cable, telephone and internet media in positions at the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy and the National Telecommunications, as well as a published academic.

Other subcommittee members include, former California Public Utilities Commissioner and Santa Clara Law Professor Catherine Sandoval, and Julie Kim and Dr. Rajiv Sharma from Stanford’s Global Projects Center, as well as San Francisco State Professor Hao Yue.


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