The Rancho Santa Fe Post

Groundhog Day for Fiber in Rancho Santa Fe

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When I ran for the Rancho Santa Fe HOA Board last year I was encouraged to find all five of my fellow candidates were vocal supporters of the fiber Internet deal. This is why I was both surprised and perplexed when it was terminated last year. How could a deal that had unanimous support unravel so quickly?

Recently, I read the Technology Committee Co-Chair Rick Sapp’s latest update regarding the fiber Internet project. In Mr. Sapp’s update, he informs us that, “After a thorough job exploring the industry and our options, the Tech Committee determined that the best way to move forward is to create the network design.”

I never said I was Elon Musk, but I think he’d even scratch his head on this one. My intention is not flippancy, as I know how hard Mr. Sapp and the current Board as well as previous Boards have worked to find a solution. I just simply don’t understand.

In the previous deal that was terminated by the new Board last October, Hotwire Communications - a national leader in building and operating communications infrastructure - created a design, was responsible for engineering and construction of the network, and would have managed both the upkeep of the network and the services delivered over it.

So I ask, How are we moving in the right direction?

The Tech Committee is now finalizing a request for proposal for an engineering design study likely to cost, according to the Committee, in the hundreds of thousands.

But what kind of network are we even designing? Who is going to build it? Who is going to service it?

During last year's election I wrote an article practically pleading to keep the momentum going on getting better broadband. But it seems we're right back where we started, and I’m still stuck in the Rancho vortex with my eyes bulging as my arthritic thumb furiously attacks the ”resend" button. I feel like a caged ape thumping on a pellet bar waiting for my treat. We need some evolution - stat!

Why won’t anyone tell us what was so bad about the Hotwire deal? Every single candidate last election said they supported it. The Board voted unanimously in favor of it. And then we terminated it because I gather it was thought the Board could do a better deal without consultants getting in the way.

In its comprehensive LOI with Hotwire Communications, the previous Board negotiated both a construction contract to build the network as well as a service level agreement to maintain it. In addition, the Association would keep half of the Internet revenues and maintain ownership over the network itself.

Over the last few months, the Board met with Internet providers including AT&T and Cox. AT&T wanted to charge the Association $18 million to build the network and the community would not get any ownership interest or revenues. Cox would not even entertain an offer.

Is the current Board planning to get the Association in the business of providing Internet service themselves to get the service providers out of the way?

The fact is, had the Board not terminated the Hotwire deal, the network would very likely be under construction today.

Instead, we’ve done another study. Same results.

We’ve interviewed current providers. Same results.

But now, instead of taking a partnership deal to work with a company that is in the business of building and servicing Internet networks, we are going to do this all ourselves.

We don’t know who is building it. We don’t know who is servicing it. We don’t even know what “it” is. But we are going to design it. In light of Easter Sunday, Lord help us.

Just to put this whole Sisyphean escapade in perspective, here's a timeline of where we are (or aren't!):

April 2011 - A long-range planning survey finds a majority of Covenant residents (69 percent) feel the lack of access to high-speed Internet could deter potential homebuyers in the Ranch. The same survey finds nearly half of surveyed Covenant residents are not satisfied with their Internet access.

June 2011 - The Board’s Broadband Committee begins to study bringing high-speed Internet to the Ranch.

July 2011 - Then-Board President Jack Queen announces the Association agreed at its annual retreat that its No. 1 priority would be to address the issue of broadband coverage for the community.

June 2012 - Then-Board President Jack Queen authors an article explaining what the Broadband Committee has learned after a year of study: “1) There is not going to be any one simple solution; 2) Any resolve will be expensive; and finally 3) The options are complicated.”

September 2013 - After meeting with numerous providers, including Cox, Time Warner Cable, Orion Broadband, AT&T, and Verizon, the Broadband Committee decides provider-driven networks are too cost prohibitive to pursue.

June 2014 - Kim Eggleston and Ann Boon are elected to the Board and vow to pursue a high-speed Internet solution.

August 2014 - The Board meets with tech leaders at Qualcomm to try to solve the Covenant’s technology issues.

October 2014 - A group of private residents in the Covenant fund a fiber-optic feasibility study.

March 2015 - Results of the privately funded feasibility study shows a majority of residents are dissatisfied with their current service and over 80 percent of respondents say broadband Internet is critical.

March 2015 - The fiber feasibility study is presented to the Board. The study concludes that there are two viable options for bringing high-speed Internet to the Ranch:

  • The Association can fully fund the complete build-out of a fiber network at a cost of approximately $14 million, OR
  • The Association can grant a qualified developer the entitlements necessary to complete the project, thereby reducing the risk assumed by the Association while maintaining ownership of the infrastructure.

April 2015 - The Board hires Magellan Advisors, a nationally recognized broadband consulting firm, to pursue a public-private partnership model to bring a state of the art high-speed fiber Internet infrastructure to the Ranch that is managed by a qualified service provider, but owned by the Association.

June 2015 - Mike Licosati and Fred Wasserman are elected to the Board.

September 2015 - Magellan Advisors gives an in-depth presentation at a community meeting. Fred Wasserman seconds a motion to approve a request for qualifications and proposals to allow solicitation of bids from qualified service providers.

September 2015 - October 2015 - Over ten proposals are submitted to the Board. The Board applies an objective scoring sheet and interviews the top four submissions.

December 2015 - The Board narrows potential service providers down to two and completes a first phase of network partnership negotiations.

January - May 2016 - The Board negotiates with and signs a comprehensive terms and conditions agreement with Hotwire Communications to bring fiber Internet to the Ranch. The build-out of a fiber network is to be contingent upon a community vote. This presentation explains the Hotwire deal in detail.

June 2016 - The Board approves funding for a community outreach program to educate RSFA members about the project and to encourage them to sign up to receive service once the project is completed.

June 2016 - Allen Finkelson, Janet Danola, and Ken Markstein are elected to the Board. The community outreach program never launches.

July 2016 - The previously scheduled fiber town hall meeting is postponed indefinitely.

October 2016 - The Board terminates the fiber Internet deal.

October 2016 - The Technology Committee announces a new Internet service survey.

December 2016 - The Technology Committee releases the Internet service survey, which shows similar results to the privately funded study from 2014: Two-thirds of residents are unhappy with Internet service in the Ranch, and nearly 90 percent of respondents are interested in improved service.

Early 2017 - The Technology Committee meets with prospective vendors once again to determine if a new deal can be reached.

March 2017 - Richard Sapp, Co-Chair of the Technology Committee, announces the Board will design the network themselves and issues request for proposals to vendors for bids.

Here is the presentation that was given to the Board prior to its unanimous vote to sign the LOI:

After all the work that has been done on improving the Ranch’s Internet situation, this timeline gives me a nagging feeling of deja vu. Think the burnt-out and disconnected character Bill Murray plays in Groundhog Day, caught in a dizzying time loop where he is forced to relive the same day over and over again. I’m not a betting woman, but my hunch is that this new plan won't bring us much closer to improved connectivity. It seems like we’re just running in circles and stuck on repeat. For the sake of our quality of life, real estate values, and patience (!), I hope I'm proved terribly wrong.