Many of you know that the Rancho Santa Fe Association (RSFA) is aggressively pursuing the build-out of a community-owned fiber-optic network to provide Covenant members with fast and reliable broadband Internet access, high definition TV, and other Internet-enhanced services such as better cell phone coverage and integrated security systems.
This effort comes in response to extremely high price quotes from major providers to update the Covenant infrastructure. Rather than spend that kind of money AND hand ownership of the communities infrastructure to a major service provider, members of the RSF community privately funded a feasibility study to analyze the cost and return on building a community-owned network that could, once built, be leased out to end-service providers.
The feasibility study was conducted by Magellan Advisors, a leading consulting firm in the burgeoning area of community broadband, and overseen by IVC Media LLC, a local public relations and digital media firm. As part of the feasibility study, IVC and Magellan conducted a professional survey among Covenant residents that showed almost 80% of survey takers were in favor of a community-owned network.
After the results of the survey and the study were presented to the RSF Board, the Board voted unanimously to take over the next stage of the process as a publicly-funded project. As part of this second phase of due diligence, Magellan, IVC, and John Ryan, a member of the RSFA Technology Committee, attended the 2015 Broadband Communities Summit (BCS) from April 14-16 in Austin, Texas. The Summit organizers were so excited that a homeowners association had decided to build a community-owned fiber-optic network that they slotted an hour-long presentation from the RSFA team on the RSF project in the event’s general session.
"The good thing about not having Internet is that at least our kids are reading books! Because they can’t get onto Facebook," joked John Ryan as he began the RSF presentation at the Summit’s General Assembly. He then moved on to some hard facts: the RSFA had to act now and not later to build out this critical infrastructure. More and more, healthcare and support services are moving online as patients, especially those with less mobility, can video conference with nurses, clinicians and specialists around the world. John also pointed out that over 50% of the community already work from home some of the time - the lack of broadband is enormously compromising their ability to do so successfully.
Given his lifetime of experience in high-end real estate, John concluded that
“Internet connectivity is a huge plus point and greatly enhances home values in what is rather a competitive market.”
For communities to build out their own broadband is a relatively new but rapidly rising trend across the United States. At present just 140 of America’s over 40,000 communities have successfully lit up their own broadband networks. But across the country, especially in suburban and rural areas without broadband connectivity, communities are looking into building their own network infrastructures in response to the major providers’ unwillingness to do so.
Given the low penetration of community broadband around the nation, attending the BCS was, in part, an effort to promote exactly the kind of effort that RSF is attempting. For example, Tom Wheeler, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, gave the opening keynote regarding the reclassification of broadband as a public utility in recognition of it being essential infrastructure and to support independent-minded communities like RSF taking control of their own infrastructure destinies.
Community-owned broadband, however, allows communities to promote competition by simultaneously leasing their infrastructure to multiple ISPs - giving each home or business owner choices and promoting healthy competition in the marketplace. The community gets a return on their investment by leasing access to the network.
Despite hosting one of the nation’s largest cities and several of its most prominent tech hubs, San Diego ranks just 2,002 out of 3,234 counties in the United States in terms of Internet infrastructure. With their forward-looking and well thought-out plan Rancho Santa Fe is poised to be a beacon that “lights up” the rest of the city.