By Karen Billing
In the two years that the Rancho Santa Fe Association broadband committee has spent studying how to improve high-speed internet in the Ranch, a lot has changed on the technology front. Options are available now that weren’t at the outset and most Covenant residents have at least two high-speed internet options available to keep them connected.
According to RSF Association Assistant Manager Ivan Holler, the committee has determined that it’s better to inform members about the options available to them than go with a single, wired Covenant-wide provider, which is too cost-prohibitive.
“There’s a substantial challenge to make that happen primarily because of what makes the community attractive in other ways; we are a large lot, low infrastructure community,” Holler said.
“The problem is it’s too expensive for (carriers) to wire the Ranch, it’s too spread out,” said director Philip Wilkinson.
The board established the ad-hoc broadband committee about two years ago following the results of the 2010 community survey that found 46 percent of Covenant residents were not satisfied with their internet access and 69 percent felt lack of high-speed internet was somewhat of a deterrent to potential buyers.
The committee met with a number of providers, such as Cox, Time Warner Cable, Orion Broadband, AT&T U-verse, AT&T Wireless 4G LTE, Verizon Wireless 4G LTE. The committee also looked at the potential for fixed broadband wireless, satellite and other DSL T1 lines.
During the process the Association received two proposals to wire the Covenant, one from ATT U-Verse and one from Cox.
Holler said the proposal from Cox cost more than $11 million and the Association would not own the infrastructure. AT&T U-Verse’s proposal involved the company funding the cost to wire the Covenant, but involved a seven-year contract that would make the Association financially responsible for over 1,700 member subscriptions.
“Neither proposal was a feasible solution because of the risk and costs associated with them,” Holler said.
But, during the two years the committee has been going through the process, director Rochelle Putnam said AT&T U-Verse has been wiring sporadically throughout the Ranch. She said wireless has exploded so rapidly that it doesn’t make sense for the Association to saddle themselves with a solution that may be obsolete within months.
Both director Craig McAllister and Wilkinson said that AT&T U-Verse has worked very well for their needs.
Wilkinson said the way for people in the Ranch to go is wireless broadband.
“It’s changing a lot and will change drastically in the next few years,” said Wilkinson said, noting that more and more wireless solutions are going to become available.
Both AT&T and Verizon offer 4G LTE cellular-based internet access through tablets, smart phones, wireless routers or air cards. While 4G service is not available uniformly Covenant-wide, the carriers’ 3G service is available in some areas.
Verizon also offers a HomeFusion broadband package that comes with an external antenna and wireless router to improve the strength of the signal for use in the home.
Holler said the current speeds of 3G and 4G are very fast. The only limiting factor for the most part is data caps — it can be problematic to stream movies or download larger documents.
Holler said AT&T Wireless may soon be expanding its 4G coverage as well, with no extra cost to the Association. It will likely require additional utility poles but those locations are unknown at this time.
Wilkinson wondered how much internet access remains a problem—he said most people are able to get internet connections via their smart phones or tablets.
“Maybe technology has solved our problem for us,” director Heather Slosar said.
Despite the improvements made and the better coverage that exists, Holler said the Association still gets calls from members a couple of times a week looking for solutions. Here are some of the options available for Association members looking to get and stay connected:
For properties that have a direct line of sight access to communication towers on Black Mountain or San Marcos, fixed broadband wireless may be an option. It is a small dish that can be mounted outside a house.
Holler said speeds can be very fast but it won’t work unless a home is located in that direct line of sight with the towers — the signal can’t shoot through trees and it won’t work for homes located in a valley.
Costs vary but providers include San Diego Broadband and Skyriver.
Up until recently, the options for satellite-based internet have been “awful,” according to Holler but the options have improved in the past year.
ViaSat, a Carlsbad-based company, now offers a new satellite product called Exede.
Customer reviews are mixed, Holler said, but where all other options fail it may be a viable option.
While satellite, “surfing” from one site to the next may be slower and it is not a good option if someone in your home is a gamer — playing internet video games won’t work with satellite.
Digital subscriber lines (DSL) are telephone lines that phone companies can use to offer high-speed internet access but they have limitations on the distance a home is from a station or central office. Various providers offer T1 lines or fiber optic lines, although they can be fairly expensive, Holler said.
There is an option to bond DSL and T1 lines together to increase connection speeds. Companies such as Mushroom Networks and MegaPath provide bonding solutions for internet access.