AT&T’s recent fiber to the home (FTTH) upgrades in Santa Cruz mean that Cruzio isn’t the only Internet service provider bringing gigabit class infrastructure into town (unless you have a sneaking suspicion that it’s a competitive response – in that case you can thank Cruzio for it too). U.C. Santa Cruz’s Jim Warner tracked it down…
AT&T has been working on an FTTH deployment in parts of west Santa Cruz. The work has progressed to the point where some addresses are showing availability of gigabit service in AT&T’s on-line service availability tool. When you enter a “good” address – one where gigabit service is already available – you see, among other things, a web offer for “fiber” service at 100 Mbps and 1,000 Mbps download and upload speeds (subject to the usual disclaimer: “actual customer speeds may vary and are not guaranteed”).
The 100 Mbps packages is capped at 1 terabyte a month; the gigabit package offers “unlimited data”.
An example of what FTTH looks like “on the pole” is in the picture above. The thin curved lines that appear to loop back into the new tap are not fibers. They are simply plastic retainers to keep the protective caps from falling to the ground. To be ready to serve any address, one of the taps needs to be placed on almost every pole.
It is harder to see what’s going on underground. We need to wait for details about the project to know if areas where utilities are underground (rather than on poles) will be included.
The quality of AT&T’s craftsmanship is highly variable and not all of it looks as clean as in the picture presented. So far, I’ve seen FTTH work in the area bounded by Walnut Ave., California St., Almar Ave. and King St. This is a poor way to gauge the scope of their project, though. I visited the AT&T retail store but discovered staff get no special advance information about what the company is working on.
Wireline carriers, such as AT&T and Comcast, each get one foot of vertical space on each pole for their service. AT&T has attached their new fiber network to their legacy copper network to avoid needing to completely rearrange the pole or pay for another foot of pole space.
As a wild fire burned in the Santa Cruz mountains, a key AT&T fiber line was cut nearby, reportedly by a road maintenance crew doing previously scheduled work just before 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday of last week.
In 2009, a break in a different AT&T cable effectively knocked Santa Cruz, Watsonville and most of the rest of the county off of the Internet for most of a day. Since then, AT&T, Comcast and independent broadband companies have upgraded and diversified cable routes running north and south. A few thousand customers were affected by last week’s break, but it went unnoticed by most people in Santa Cruz County.
But not all. The County of Santa Cruz’s IT infrastructure was connected directly to the severed AT&T cable, and there was no failover capacity in place. So the county’s website went down, just as residents in and near the evacuation area would have been waking up and going on line, looking for information about the Bear Fire.
Fortunately, Cruzio, a local Internet service provider of 30 years standing, had a solution ready to go. As a result of an earlier swap with the county, Cruzio installed a 100 Mbps auxiliary circuit in the county’s main building on Ocean Street in Santa Cruz. It was connected to Cruzio’s high capacity links that rely on newly installed, redundant fiber routes, one going north to Sunnyvale and the other, subsidised by the California Advanced Services Fund, heading south through Watsonville to the Internet backbone along the U.S. 101 corridor.
With Cruzio’s assistance, county staff routed their traffic through this connection, and got back on line “a little after noon”, according to a county spokesman.
But it wasn’t enough. The combination of external web traffic and internal county business quickly overloaded the connection – the AT&T service it replaced was specced at 250 Mbps – and county staff asked that the connection be bumped higher. Cruzio replied by opening up a gigabit port. “No charge for any of this of course” said James Hackett, director of business operations and development at Cruzio.
Had there been a repeat of the outage caused by the 2009 AT&T fiber cut, on top of a growing fire threatening lives and homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the result could have been a major, and dangerous, disruption. Instead, the work that’s been done over the past eight years to build independently-owned fiber optic lines in the region, led primarily by U.C. Santa Cruz, kept the focus where it needed to be: on fighting the fire.
Plantronic’s Esther Yoon demos the Backbeat Fit at CES.
Two Santa Cruz companies were among the thousands of exhibitors at the Consumer Electronics Show, which wrapped up in Las Vegas last weekend – one industry veteran, Plantronics, and one start up, Future Motion, which is just hitting its stride. Both were on hand at Pepcom’s media showcase.
Future Motion introduced the Onewheel+, the latest version of a motorised balance beam skateboard with, naturally, just one wheel. It has two horsepower electric motor and can hit speeds of 19 miles per hour. It’s designed to be easier to ride than version 1.0, and comes with a smart phone app that’ll let you set it up the way you like it – gentle or go for broke.
“It feels like you’re snowboarding on powder”, said CEO Kyle Doerksen. The product has found its audience, he said. Initially, it was uphill work explaining what the Onewheel is all about. Now that it’s out there, people have a point of reference and can understand the features.
CES spotlight on Onewheel+.
Everything except manufacturing – design, sales and marketing, customer – happens at Future Motion’s headquarters in the Wrigley building in Santa Cruz. The product is made in San Jose.
Plantronics showcased two new wireless headsets, the Backbeat Fit and the Backbeat Pro 2. The Pro 2 is a wireless over-the-ears headset – high quality audio with noise cancelling technology, plus mics for phone functionality.
The Fit was designed with Santa Cruz in mind. It’s a flexible, rubbery headset that’s waterproof and designed to stay in your ears even if you a do backflip. Or a flip in some other direction – handy for surfing. The earpieces don’t completely your ear, so if you want wear it while you’re out running, you can still cars and whatever else is around you.
A third local company, Scotts Valley-based Pearl Automation, was also represented. CEO and co-founder Bryson Gardener appeared on a panel, speaking about life hacks for tech-centric families. Pearl makes an aftermarket back up camera for cars.
The partnership model announcement today between Huntsville and Google Fiber is on the model of that pioneered by Westminster, Maryland in 2014 and by Santa Cruz, California last year…
This innovative, shared-risk partnership model puts the locality in the business of building infrastructure, a business it knows well after a century of building roads, bridges, and utilities. The model leaves to the private sector (in this case, Google Fiber and any other provider that chooses to lease Huntsville fiber) all aspects of network operations, equipment provisioning, service delivery, and customer service.
It’s a love fest, several Santa Cruz city council members declared on Wednesday afternoon, as they unanimously approved 1. moving ahead with negotiating a fiber to the home partnership with Cruzio, a local independent Internet service provider, and 2. pursue lease revenue bonds to pay the lions share of the tab. That city-financed portion – Layer 1 in Internet lingo – could go as high as $50 million. The core network – the fiber in the ground – is pegged at about $35 million. Another $7 million is earmarked to pay for customer connections and there’s an allowance for start up, bond financing and other costs.
Cruzio will have responsibility for buying and installing the electronics – Layer 2 – except for the terminals installed on subscriber homes and businesses, and for Layer 3, the Internet bandwidth. The city’s bonds will be paid back by revenue from the system. Final terms haven’t been set, but the model currently under discussion has Cruzio paying $6 per month for every premise passed and another $30 for every subscriber.
The market research done by the city indicates that an eventual take rate of 34% will pay back the investment over time. That’s about 7,500 subscribers, including the approximately 3,000 that Cruzio will transfer from its current service to the FTTH system. Plan B is for Cruzio to pay 80% of any financing shortfall, with the city picking up the remaining 20%.
Santa Cruz mayor Don Lane was clearly on board with the love fest, but he also added a dose of reality before the vote…
My enthusiasm for this is very high, but I think it’s so important that we recognise the magnitude of the commitment we’re making. I think it’s a really worthwhile commitment and it’s really well vetted. Everything is right about it. But it is something new, we’re taking a little bit of risk here, and I just think we should go into this with our eyes wide open about that, so we’re not saying to the community ‘oh, this is just dreamy and perfect’. It’s a serious investment, it makes sense and it’s a business deal. That’s what we have and I think it’s a good one.
That investment is expected to boost Santa Cruz’s economy, economic development director Bonnie Lipscomb said as she briefed council members on the project. High tech companies are moving into Santa Cruz, local residents want to telecommute rather than slug it out over highway 17 to Silicon Valley every day, and investors are looking at the community in a different light. Lipscomb said that investors from as far away as China have heard about the fiber project, and expressed interest because of it. It’s not just that fiber will be available to some – as it already is in downtown Santa Cruz – but that it’ll be available to all. That’s because it’s a city-led project, Lipscomb explained…
Another important element is to talk about is ubiquitous coverage across the city. That’s one of the unique aspects of this being a city network and this being a utility that’s owned by the city, a municipal government. We’re able to actually take this fiber network across every parcel in Santa Cruz. If this were Comcast, if this were another Internet service provider, the challenges are, particularly in a for profit business, is that you go where people are willing to pay for the service. One of the things that we’re really enabling is to level the playing field, so that everyone has access to this fiber network.
Next steps are for the City and Cruzio to agree on detailed deal terms, and arrange for the bond financing. That’s a process that’s likely to take months rather than weeks but, it is hoped, not very many months.
Documents from the 8 December 2015 council meeting:
The vote was seven to nothing, as the Santa Cruz city council moved ahead this afternoon with a plan to build a city-owned dark fiber network that will reach every home and business in town. Under the current plan, the system will be leased to Cruzio, a local independent Internet service provider. Cruzio will light the fiber – buy and maintain the electronics, and provision the Internet bandwidth – and run the business. The cost to the city is in the $30 million range. It’ll be financed with lease revenue bonds, which will be repaid via revenue generated by Cruzio. More details later.
Tellus Venture Associates is assisting the City of Santa Cruz with its FTTH project. I’m not a disinterested observer. Take it for what it’s worth.
The City of Santa Cruz will be responsible for building and maintaining the dark fiber infrastructure (often referred to as the Outside Plant or Layer 1) while Cruzio will be responsible for the electronics (Layer 2) as well as the internet exchange and internet service provider as the exclusive retailer on the network (Layer 3)
Cruzio will pay a combination of per passing and per subscriber fees (to be determined once final costs are established)
Cruzio will share risk with the City of Santa Cruz by backfilling 80% of the debt service for bond payments should revenue fall short
Cruzio will design as the network partner, in partnership with the non-profit National Development Council, Economic Development’s financial advisor and consultant for the bond issuance.
Links to the financial analysis and market research prepared for the meeting are below. The financial model uses a lease payment of $6 per premise passed and $30 per subscriber (both per month) as a working assumption. In other words, Cruzio would pay the City $6 a month for every home and business passed by the network, and another $30 if someone at that address subscribes. The City would use that revenue to make bond payments and pay for maintaining the core, dark fiber network.
The financial analysis puts the necessary take rate at 34%, a level the research shows could be reached at a price point of $85 per month for gigabit Internet service. The take rate jumps to 54% at $75 and 82% at $55 per month. Competition will have an impact. AT&T and Comcast are two of the three incumbents in Santa Cruz – Cruzio is the third – and will certainly target that demand as well. But Cruzio has been competing in that arena for more than 25 years and will be starting the game with a base of about 3,000 subscribers and only needs to raise it to 7,500.
Comcast has a habit of upgrading and extending its infrastructure when the threat of competition raises its beautiful head. That’s a deliberate strategy, and not a coincidence, according to a Comcast executive quoted by FierceTelecom…
Speaking to attendees during the opening afternoon sessions during SCTE 2015, Jorge Salinger, VP of access for Comcast, said that the cable industry’s development of the DOCSIS 3.1 specification has come together very quickly and is being driven by an emergence of new broadband competition from Google Fiber and telcos like AT&T and CenturyLink.
“It’s an incredibly fast moving specification and the reason for that is competition — competition for cable operators and competition for … equipment vendors and that is helping the acceleration,” Salinger said. “On the equipment side, there is silicon available from three suppliers and there are multiple cable modems so the development of the equipment has been very rapid.”
It’s a familiar pattern. For years, residents complain about poor service and businesses struggle to find affordable commercial and industrial grade Internet access. Local officials hold meetings and Comcast makes vague promises. And nothing is done. Until genuine competition appears.
The correlation between municipal competition and Comcast upgrades has always been strong. Now we know it’s no coincidence.
After years of blowing off customers, sandbagging local governments and stonewalling regulators, Comcast has finally upgraded its Santa Cruz County service area to what appears to be the same broadband speeds enjoyed to the north in Silicon Valley and to the south in Monterey County. All it took was a single word: competition.
Before the upgrade, the best that Comcast could reliably deliver in the Santa Cruz area was less than 25 Mbps download and somewhere between 1.5 Mbps and 3 Mbps upload speeds. That was in stark contrast to the service it offered elsewhere in California, which was in the 100+ Mbps download and 25 Mbps upload range, at least according to the reports it submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission. The map below shows a blotch of green across the northern two-thirds of Santa Cruz County (the south is Charter territory), denoting a maximum reported download speed below 25 Mbps, while surrounding counties are colored blue, which means 100+ Mbps speeds.
For two years [Comcast] has been telling users they were getting 105 mbps, and charging $39 extra per month for the “Blast!” high-speed service, but an internal document released to Good Times shows the area was only capable of receiving 29 mbps—more of a fizzle than a “blast.”
“We’ve been complaining to the company in Philadelphia for years, asking them to stop promising something they weren’t delivering,” says a Comcast technician whose identity is being withheld to protect his job. “But they ignored us.” , The technician was so frustrated that he gave customers an internal document saying that speeds in the county were limited to 29 mbps, despite the company’s sales promises of the 105 mbps Blast! service.
That all changed after the City of Santa Cruz and Cruzio turned up the heat with plans for a new FTTH network, at least within the city limits. The competitive fires had already been lit earlier this year by Santa Cruz County, which, after urging from Aptos supervisor Zach Friend, floated plans for a publicly-owned fiber backbone that would serve some of the more densely populated unincorporated areas, and by assemblyman Mark Stone, who introduced a bill in Sacramento that would raise the bar for minimum broadband service in California to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. By doing that, he would have made Comcast’s service area in Santa Cruz County (as well as uncabled communities in rural areas of the state) eligible for broadband infrastructure subsidies from the California Advanced Services Fund.
Now, people living in Santa Cruz – city and county – can get Comcast’s Blast 150 Mbps plan for an introductory price of $40 per month, $10 less than it costs in Monterey County. The price goes up to somewhere between $75 and $79 after a year, and the fine print includes the standard weasel warning “actual speeds vary and are not guaranteed”.
The City of Santa Cruz has high hopes for its fiber project, believing that it will make Santa Cruz a better place to live and work. But even before a single strand has been hung, the initiative – along with parallel efforts at the county and state level – has already succeeded in improving broadband service for locals residents and businesses.
Tellus Venture Associates is assisting the City of Santa Cruz with its FTTH project and helped Surfnet with its CASF grant application. I also provided support for Mark Stone as he sponsored assembly bill 238. I’m not a disinterested observer. Take it for what it’s worth.
The route runs more or less near the coastline along the length of the county, from Watsonville to Davenport, going through the cities of Capitola and Santa Cruz. About half the population of Santa Cruz County lives within a mile of the right of way. Work is planned on a few segments of the line, particularly in the cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville, and up coast towards Davenport, as a recreational trail is developed…
The RTC is interested in leasing this right of way to utility companies and municipal districts whose use would be compatible with the planned uses of this right of way.
Currently, the rail line is being used for recreational and freight rail service and in the future may be used for passenger rail service. The rail trail portion of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail is planned to be built along the length of the rail line corridor. There are a few segments of the rail trail that will be constructed over the next few years. These sections are indicated on the attached map. The RTC intends to follow a “dig once” policy before the paved trail is built next to the tracks. Once the trail is built, the cost of adding underground utilities will rise considerably.