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Manteca may develop fiber optic strategy

Downtown Manteca until a few months ago was in the Stone Age as far as the Internet was concerned.

Comcast earlier this year didn’t even offer basic Internet service in the downtown area forcing merchants to rely on wireless providers.

Manteca’s leaders — not willing to be at the mercy of Comcast or landline phone provider Frontier when it comes to universal access to cutting edge fiber technology that is considered essential for a vibrant local economy and a robust lifestyle for residents — are exploring ways to bring fiber optic to Manteca on a wholesale basis.

Currently there are short runs of fiber optics in place in various areas of the city where Comcast or Wave Technologies has placed them to get a single business or a new neighborhood being built connected. Unless a business or a residence is near a connection vault put in by Comcast or Wave it is very expensive to obtain cutting edge fiber speeds capable of transmitting 23,000 music CDs a second.

In a report to the City Council, staff notes Frontier that acquired Verizon’s landline business last year in Manteca as well as Ripon, inherited old copper technology. Frontier’s debt load prevents it from investing heavily in infrastructure upgrades. That essentially gives Comcast a de facto monopoly for wire based Internet access that is faster and more reliable than wireless Internet. At the same time Comcast has a copper based system as well except for short runs of fiber optics.

City staff notes that  means Comcast has no competition when it comes to high speed Internet service via copper wires leaving little or no incentive for the firm to aggressively price services they are currently providing.

In a bid to put Manteca on a path working toward universal fiber optic service, staff is asking the City Council when they meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St., to consider approving the elements of a city fiber infrastructure development strategy while ensuring better market competition.

The elements are:

*requiring developers and utilities to place additional conduit for the city in trenches any time a public right of way or public utility easement is opened.

*reviewing all public utility plans prior to construction to assess what communications fiber or cables are going into the ground in Manteca to allow the city to create a GIS map of all available cations within the community have access to fiber.

*developing an ordinance requiring developers to ensure new buildings and new subdivisions are fiber ready.

*offering partnerships with several major fiber providers to explore in-kind services or trades and possible waiving fees to incentivize investment in Manteca fiber.

*exploring funding ideas.

If Manteca were to pursue a 5.7 mile fiber ring key for wider access to cutting edge Internet speed that would encompass Spreckels Park, downtown, and the Civic Center it would cost $6  per linear  square foot in today’s construction and material prices.

Although staff is not seeking a commitment Tuesday to set aside funding for such a ring, it was noted if $200,000 was set aside per year in the budget a ring that is fiber ready could be in place over the course of a number of years.

One avenue the city is exploring is the model Loma Linda in Southern California implemented in a pilot project.

Patterning with a private firm Loma Linda set up a pilot program to connect 36 homes in a neighborhood to fiber. The cost was $3,200 to connect each household. That included $2,500 in construction costs, $200 for the distribution system, and $500 for electronics. It provided fiber to each home as one as one copper jack for a service that would allow a family’s four children to all watch different Netflix movies on separate devices, an adult to teleconference and barely put a dent in the  household data capacity.

The use of micro trenching meant there was minimal disruption in Loma Linda.

The pilot project showed that not only are residents responsive to fiber but over 50 percent of the residents targeted signed up.

The bottom line was huge in terms of data transmission capacity and small in terms of cost.

After amortizing the cost of the project over a number of years, the monthly charge to each household is $29.95 a month. Compare that to the $49 to $79 that Comcast changes Manteca residents — depending upon the firm’s market strategies or if they are trying to prevent a customer from switching — for their fastest speed that is a fraction of fiber.

More than 750 communities across the country have built their own Internet networks using various models.

City staff has noted fiber would position Manteca to be a stronger competitor for jobs in shipping and logistics and manufacturing as open doors all the way for agricultural technology using satellites to constantly monitor crops, telehealth, and education technology.

In the case of manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing — that require the transmission of huge amounts of data to perform — Manteca would be well positioned if it had fiber.