The City of San Francisco has already put in place numerous plans to resist the policies of the Trump Administration – from immigration to healthcare to labor agreements. Now it is moving on to internet access.
Supervisor Mark Farrell has set up a "blue ribbon panel" to look at how to get the City by the Bay wired up with super-fast fiber that will offer gigabit speeds at vastly reduced costs.
Farrell will co-chair the panel with Harvard Law School Professor Susan Crawford, who has become a figurehead of a movement to introduce dark fiber across the United States as a way of bypassing the current oligopoly of cable providers that offer slower and more expensive internet access than almost all comparable Western nations.
They will be joined by managing director of Stanford's Global Project Center, Michael Bennon, former California Public Utilities Commissioner Catherine Sandoval, and others from Bay Area law schools, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
At the heart of the panel's discussions will be how to implement a citywide high-speed internet offering 1Gbps. "As we move forward, thinking about municipal fiber in San Francisco, I thought it was important to bring together a group of nationally renowned academic scholars to evaluate a wide variety of questions that we, as a city, should answer," Farrell was quoted as saying.
The key issues to be looked at are:
- How to finance what would likely be a $1bn project.
- How a network should be operated: as a public utility or a private company.
- How to make the network safe.
These are not new questions, but they have taken on greater significance with a clear shift at the US comms watchdog, the FCC, away from net neutrality and toward Big Cable, with the scrapping of several rules and provisions due to go into effect and the repeating of Big Cable talking points almost verbatim by new chair Ajit Pai.
This reporter was present at the launch of Crawford's book Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age in San Francisco back in 2014. The book has served as the rallying text for those looking for a better, faster and cheaper alternative for internet access.
At the time, Crawford was cautiously optimistic that new FCC chair Tom Wheeler would introduce policies to protect the neutrality of the internet, despite him being a lifelong lobbyist for the wireless industry. She turned out to be right.
She was not correct, however, when she welcomed the arrival of Google Fiber – which promised to bring unlit fiber to US cities – as heralding a new era of uncontrolled, fast and lower-cost bandwidth.
The decision to directly challenge Comcast and Time Warner Cable by digging up the ground and installing fiber optic cable "amounts to a religious war in American telecom land," she enthused, which would bring real competition to a huge market.
This Tuesday, almost a year to the day later, Crawford attempted a little bit of history rewriting when she wrote that "Google Fiber was doomed from the start." She outlined her view that the answer was never going to be a for-profit company but will require local, state and eventually federal policies and massive investment to install a whole new infrastructure akin to subway systems, railways, and telephone networks.