Star Ratings show where to find high tech, industrial class broadband

The best place on California’s south central coast – on the whole – to look for commercial or industrial real estate with access to fast, fiber optic broadband service is San Luis Obispo. But there are plenty of other cities in the SLO – Santa Barbara – Ventura county region with pockets of fiber availability that are as good or, in many cases, better.

In the course of a doing a regional broadband assessment for the Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast (BCPC), we developed a method for rating the availability of commercial and industrial-class broadband infrastructure. We’ve been using our broadband report card methodology – originally developed for the East Bay Broadband Consortium – to evaluate the primary broadband infrastructure that’s generally available in a city or county. While it’s proven to be an excellent way to gauge the broadband infrastructure that residents and the vast majority of businesses use and the overall condition of incumbent telephone and cable company networks, more detail is needed to assess whether a business district is equipped to attract high tech, bandwidth-intensive companies.

The commercial/industrial Star Rating system looks specifically at areas of a community that are zoned for commercial or industrial purposes, and then uses a point system to rate the broadband infrastructure that’s available, on a census block level.

If an industrial or commercial area has no fiber to the premise available at all and the primary infrastructure fails to get at least an average – “C” – grade, then it’s a No Star location. If the primary infrastructure gets at least a “C” grade or if it meets bare minimum standards – a “D” grade – and some kind of FTTP is available, it’s a 1 Star area. Additional Stars are awarded for faster, gigabit-class service and open access dark fiber, all the way up to 5 Stars.

In the future, we’ll look at including advanced copper technologies in the rating – G.Fast and DOCSIS 3.1 are candidates – but only where the underlying network has been engineered to support it. It’s a given that bolting custom electronics onto available copper lines – even failing, “F” grade facilities – or bonding lines together can produce fast circuits. But the need to resort to such heroic measures is confirmation of poor infrastructure, and not a reason to celebrate.

We did two runs of the analysis, with more city zoning data and a refined methodology the second time around. Results from both runs were consistent and did a good job of highlighting where the kind of broadband infrastructure high tech companies look for is available in the three counties. More on that tomorrow.

Broadband Analysis and Planning, Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast, Final Report, 11 April 2016
Broadband Analysis and Planning Broadband Consortium of the Pacific Coast Update, 30 June 2016
Star Rating maps – San Luis Obispo County
Star Rating maps – Santa Barbara County
Star Rating maps – Ventura County