Fiber cuts not as disruptive on California's central coast

19 April 2013 by Steve Blum
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Lightning fast and always lands on its feet. The cat too.

Four years ago, someone chopped into an AT&T fiber optic cable south of San Jose in California. Big chunks of Santa Cruz, San Benito and Santa Clara Counties fell off the Internet for the better part of a day. Mobile and landline phone service was disrupted.

Earlier this week, a similar cut was made in more or less the same place. The same thing happened to a lot of people. But not to everyone. Particularly in Santa Cruz County.

One major difference this time around is that Santa Cruz County doesn’t depend on a single AT&T fiber optic line any more. Since the 2009 incident, a second, independent fiber line was pulled over the hill from Santa Clara. It was built by Sunesys, with substantial backing from U.C. Santa Cruz. Cruzio, a local Santa Cruz Internet service provider, and Comcast have since joined UCSC in leasing dark fiber.

Most of Cruzio’s customers didn’t notice this week’s outage because they had a different – and diverse – path back to a Tier 1 Internet exchange. Cruzio can deliver more reliable and, frequently, cheaper and faster service than AT&T because it can buy resources in a competitive wholesale market.

Most days in most places, AT&T does a fine job of keeping the bits flowing for its customers. It doesn’t offer ala carte services, like dark fiber, to potential competitors or major institutional users, though. And in some places it can be put out of commission by one guy with an axe.

A proposal to subsidize 120 kilometers or so of new fiber between Santa Cruz and the Salinas Valley town of Soledad is front of the California Public Utilities Commission. Also backed by Sunesys and UCSC, it’s one of several California Advanced Services Fund applications submitted earlier this year. A similar – albeit much bigger – middle mile project was also proposed for far northern California.

Projects like these promote competition and increase reliability of broadband services. The result is more choice, lower prices and a firmer foundation for economic development.

Tellus Venture Associates assisted with several CASF proposals in the current round, including some that depend on the Sunesys project’s middle mile dark fiber, so I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.