By Chris Platzer with Marc Garman
The internet is the social and economic fabric of our society. As much as some of us hate to admit it, you pretty much are out of luck if you aren’t connected…and you live in a cave. Sometimes we residents of Vallejo may feel like we live in a cave, but there is hope! Vallejo already has the infrastructure for high speed internet in place courtesy of a federal grant the city was awarded in 1996. The grant was for the city to put a fiber optic infrastructure in place for smart traffic signals to combat asthma. Yes, asthma…the idea being that if traffic signals were intelligently controlled the dwell time of cars at stop lights would be less, therefore reducing emissions. We don’t really know how much this helped asthma sufferers, but the infrastructure for the project which was finished in 2001 spans 28 miles and encompasses the entire city placing almost every business or residence within one mile of a high speed fiber optic node. This presents a unique opportunity for Vallejo compared to other cities which would have to dig and disrupt in order to install such an infrastructure at great expense.
Vallejo’s dormant (as in NOT CONNECTED) high speed internet network runs along the railroad tracks from Broadway to Sperry Mills. This massive bundle of fiber forms a backbone, which runs straight through the center of town and needs only be connected to the national fiber optic backbone at the crossover point at Monterey and Tennessee Sts.
Let’s be clear. This infrastructure represents a pipeline that is capable of providing 100+ GB/s enterprise level internet connectivity. This is the same level of internet capability that serves silicon valley and has allowed the tech boom in San Francisco to happen. With Vallejo’s central location and the rising prices of commercial real estate all around us, the timing is again ideal to attract tech investment in our city. We missed the boat for the last tech boom by putting all our efforts into residential real estate development and the one time fees resulting from that activity.
So now we stand at a unique crossroads. There are several possible business models moving forward. The city has already received proposals from Sonic.net and Level 3 Communications to take over and administer the city’s fiber optic network with a focus on residential and commercial users respectively. This sub-contract business model would be consistent with what has been done in many other places however, Vallejo could take a more innovative approach. If there is the vision and impetus, Vallejo could itself take over and administer its own high speed internet service and act as its own utility. Such a publicly owned utility would have several advantages. By creating connected economic zones in various locations throughout the city and offering faster internet connectivity than is available in San Francisco at a fraction of the cost we could see the rise of exclusive economic zones that would be attractive to tech start-ups and entrepreneurs. Residents could also free themselves of the monopolies they are chained to by large internet service providers such as Comcast and At&T and enjoy the benefits of MUCH faster internet service at a fraction of the price. If all of Vallejo’s residential users paid $30 a month for internet, phone and cable service (a considerable savings over the $80 or so bucks many now pay) it would result in a revenue winfall of approximately $12 million per year to the city. We’re talking internet at 100 times the available connection speeds for a third of the price…and we haven’t considered the potential revenue from commercial users.
This all raises several questions. Why has this infrastructure laid dormant for the last 13 years? Why has such a potentially enormous asset for Vallejo been ignored, especially when combined with our central location and access to transportation? The city commissioned a High Tech Readiness Report in 2001 which still sits on the city website collecting digital dust.
Some good news is that a citizen based advisory commission has recently been formed by City Manager Dan Keen to take a more fine grained look at the potential and help fill in the gaps where staff is spread thin. Vallejo needs to move quickly, but also intelligently and not give away the store as we have so often been inclined to do with various other business and development opportunities in the past.
Channel 4 news report from 2001