Sunday, May 9, 2021
City Hall The Agenda SF could have affordable Internet for everyone for $35 a resident

SF could have affordable Internet for everyone for $35 a resident

Why isn't the Breed Administration moving for municipal broadband? That's The Agenda for April 11-18

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San Francisco could have a comprehensive public broadband system at a cost of about $35 a resident, city officials said this week.

At a hearing on the city’s future technology infrastructure plan, Sup Hillary Ronen asked whether the Committee on Information Technology had any plans to build out a public system.

Sup. Hillary Ronen asked the key question: Why aren’t we moving toward public broadband?

The committee is already providing municipal broadband to 7,000 low-income housing projects. That’s wonderful, Ronen said – but can’t the city provide cheap Internet for all?

“Has there been any thought … on public municipal broadband, and whether it’s worth bonding? It seems like it would pay for itself in not a huge period of time, and we could offer cheaper internet to everyone.”

Linda Gerull, the city’s chief technology officer, said that her department has done an economic study on the issue. The total cost would be around $2.3 billion, she said. “We did look at payback and management and how that would work. The cost per resident would be about $35.

“We are trying to go right now where there is nothing,” she said. “Our focus right now is on the unserved areas.”

Ronen asked Brian Strong, the director of the city’s Capital Planning Office, what the issue is; is this about a lack of bonding capacity?

“What I’m talking about is similar to what we’re talking about with energy, taking over PG&E to provide public electricity. Why aren’t we we shooting for the moon with this, when it would pay for itself? What is stopping us?

Strong said that “$2 billion would put us well over our bonding capacity for the next ten years.” But the current ten-year plan calls for almost $38 billion in new bonds; the money for a full broadband system, which would pay for itself pretty quickly and would provide cheap Internet to everyone, would amount to just 5 percent of that.

Besides, that money is allocated for what are called general-obligation bonds – borrowing that is backed by the tax revenues of the city. The Public Utilities Commission has the authority to issue revenue bonds – backed not by the taxpayers but by a projected stream of income, in this case from selling broadband.

“Could this be a revenue bond, which would remove that limitation?” Ronen asked.

“It could be a revenue bond, likely coming out of the PUC,” Strong said.

In other words: If the Mayor’s Office, which controls the PUC, wanted to pursue public broadband in the same way that the city is now on track to pursue public power, it would be entirely possible.

The discussion now moves to the full board Tuesday/13. Maybe the supes can ask the CPUC about this.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

4 COMMENTS

  1. It is my educated guess that Comcast breaks the law in almost every city in the US. If Merrick Garland and the new DOJ have any courage they will break the oligopolies Comcast Verizon and ATT have and let smaller players and public players into the market. These companies are out of control and treat American consumers like sheep to be fleeced.

    I had a router from Comcast several years ago and decided to switch my service, I returned the router and cancelled it to switch to Clear, which at the time was a good service. Comcast claimed that I never returned the router and continued to bill me for it and try to impact my credit rating. Verizon went a step further . I tried to order their high speed internet, it crashed after one week, they sent someone over to repair it who could not repair it and then they proceeded to send me a bill for $300.00 even though the service doesn’t work.

    All over Europe there is high speed cheap (or free) internet, it is much higher quality than in the US. This concept that the government can’t control these companies is a lot of baloney. Hopefully the situation will change. People think Facebook is malevolent and destructive, the three largest internet providers make Zuckerberg look like an amateur.

  2. How exactly would it pay for itself? Besides, there’s already $35 internet in SF, you just gotta look past the big guys….

Comments are closed.

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