Rancho Santa Fe’s technological infrastructure does not reflect that of a 21st century community. From cellular reception to slow internet speeds, RSF residents struggle to keep up with the rest of the world.
The nationwide average of internet speed is around 25 mbps (megabits per second), but Ranch residents experience stutters in connectivity and speeds well below the rest of San Diego.
One of the Ranch’s natural problems is its low-density population. According to the 2010 census, RSF had 460 residents per square mile with a total area of 6.7 square miles. This is far below a density that would attract internet service providers (ISP) to invest their technology for RSF consumers.
But there are alternative ways to benefit from new technology. Hundreds of cities around the world, for example, both rural and urban (known as gigabit cities) that have a fiber optic infrastructure for ultra high-speed broadband. This is known as fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP). Fiber optic wires allow for data to flow up to 1,000 mbps, hence the term “gigabit city.” San Diego County is not home to a gigabit city.
A fiber optic network is also the most future-proof path for providing internet. Technology is going to outgrow the current bandwidth standards. A decade ago, people at home were not streaming HD videos or backing up large files and there was no need for ultra high-speed internet.
Creating a fiber network in Rancho Santa Fe is a tall task and would require hours of research and development from a committee of experts. However, understanding the issue is the first step to a solution for the Ranch.
Why Would the Ranch Need Better Internet?
An independent analysis of home values by The First American Title showed that between 2004 and 2013, homes in Rancho Santa Fe decreased by 16.7 percent. Several real estate agents have attributed some of the decline to a lack of a high-tech infrastructure.
In 2010 for example, a survey showed that 46 percent said they were dissatisfied with their current internet performance. Additionally, 69 percent said that the Ranch’s outdated tech infrastructure is a deterrent for potential home-buyers.
What Has Already Been Done?
In 2011, the RSF association then created an ad-hoc “broadband” committee in response to residents’ dissatisfaction with the technological infrastructure.
There were two proposals that could have brought faster internet to the Ranch. One was from Cox Communications, which would have cost over $11 million. A concern was that RSF would not own the infrastructure had Cox led the project. AT&T U-verse’s proposal involved a 7-year contract and would have the RSF Association financially responsible for all the subscriptions of its residents in exchange for an immediate update in its speed and capacity.
Both proposals were rejected by the Association, and neither proposal involved installing a system that would be nearly as fast as a fiber network.
In 2013, RSFA Director Rochelle Putnam stated that AT&T Uverse service was already growing within the Covenant. It wouldn’t be necessary for the Association to tie itself in a costly contract when the technology could be outdated in a few years. Directors Philip Wilkinson and Craig McAllister also said that AT&T had been working well for them.
What Are Other Cities Doing?
Ephrata, Washington is a small city within Grant County home to just 7,366 residents, but Ephrata boasts the fastest internet speed in the United States. Ephrata also has a low-density population, 760 residents per square mile in 2010 and a total area of 10.1 square miles.
Washington state passed a law to allow public utility districts (PUDs) to provide internet service, but it was shot down in court. However, Grant County PUD stayed determined to bring high-speed internet to its residents:
“Instead, they [PUDs] could build the pipe and sell the bandwidth wholesale, as an open-access resource, to private companies that would then turn around and sell that bandwidth to residents.”
Private service provider iFIBER offers subscriptions and does “last-mile” connections to hook residents to the infrastructure built by the Grant County PUD.
The city of Sandy, Oregon has a city-run fiber-optic network that will provide high-speed internet to its residents. The project began in 2011 and is coming soon to its residents. Sandy also has a “last-mile” structure, but the city itself is offering subscriptions.
Sandy is also a small city, home to 9,570 residents, but is more densely populated at 3,047 residents per square mile.
(For full list of countries with fiber optic networks, click here.)
What Can the Ranch Do?
Services such as Google Fiber make ultra-high-speed internet in the US possible, but it may not be a viable solution for the near future. Google is currently working with three cities to upgrade (Provo, UT, Kansas City, and Austin, TX). While Google has plans to expand in the future, San Diego is not one its prospects.
Cox communications is diving into the business of fiber-to-the-premise, but won’t be doing so in San Diego until the end of 2016. Cox is currently engaged in projects for Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Omaha. AT&T is looking into 21 locations to start an FTTP project by the end of this year, one of which is San Diego. It is not clear whether Rancho Santa Fe or any other unincorporated areas will be included in these projects.
Roslyn Layton of the American Enterprise Institute stated, “Broadband is a fixed investment. Whether you deliver it to 7,000 people for 700,000, the fixed cost for building the network is the same.” The success of one such network in RSF would depend on adoption rates and how much residents are willing to pay.
If bringing better internet speeds to the Ranch cost close to the proposals from the past (approximately $12 million), it would cost about $8,000 per household.
The question then is: would an investment result in an equal or greater increase in property values in the Ranch?