Board Biz: High-speed internet service is Rancho Santa Fe Association board's top priority

Welcome to 2017! As we enter the New Year, it is a good time to provide an update on the Rancho Santa Fe Association board’s most important strategic initiative for 2017 – bringing high-speed internet service to our community.

As we move forward on this critical project, we know the importance of hearing from our members. The Association surveyed homeowners, who told us about their current internet service as well as what they’d like to see in the future. We heard from more than 700 households, and most people voiced strong opinions on internet and cell service. A clear majority of respondents – 88 percent – said they are interested in better and higher speed connectivity, and about 1 percent indicated that they had no viable internet service at all. Participant comments emphasized the importance of high-speed service for our residents’ business activities, in supporting students at the R. Roger Rowe School and other public and private schools, and in helping maintain the value and desirability of homes to future buyers. 

The Technology Committee is moving full speed ahead to examine potential community-wide solutions to address the needs revealed in the survey. The Tech Committee has been investigating several approaches and key principles guiding the committee are:

1. An underground fiber-optic backbone network of about 60 to 75 miles that would pass by every home and business in the Covenant,

2. Fiber-optic connections from the backbone to the home or business capable of carrying 1 Gigabit-per-second broadband signal with the flexibility to offer up to 10 Gigabits-per-second for businesses or heavy users,

3. Possible Association financing or capital to make the solution workable on economic terms, and

4. Face-to-face interactions with prospective suppliers rather than using an intermediary consultant.

Based on our research, interviews and experience, committee members believe that a fiber-optic network of this type will be flexible to meet future needs and new technologies. Further, such a network could support other services, such as small cell antennas, security, telephone, media and entertainment services. The survey indicated members want improvements in cell coverage, and we are looking at a fiber backbone to support a better cell network. The committee has investigated other technologies, including wireless, mmWave, satellite and hybrid fiber/coax cable solutions, and we understand fiber optics to be the best solution for our community. The committee is also investigating the use of the horse trails network, if feasible, for parts of the backbone network.

We’ve had a busy and fruitful last few weeks meeting with substantially all of the significant providers of internet service in the Ranch to understand their approach to our needs. Most have told us that the fiber-to-the-home network is the standard for new home developments and retrofits of high-density apartments and office buildings, and have agreed that fiber would be appropriate for our project. In addition, the committee has met with several other providers interested in providing a fiber network solution. These groups generally consist of in various combinations – an internet service provider, a design/engineering/construction firm and a financial partner. To be considered for our project, a group must have the necessary experience, technical resources and long-term financial stability. The committee would prefer groups that have experience and resources in the Southern California area to help ensure a smooth and successful implementation.

Our goal is to understand the various options from current and prospective suppliers so we can make a recommendation within the next several months to the RSF Association board. Currently, the committee is not employing technology or legal consultants at this phase of the investigation. We are fortunate to have Tech Committee members with impressive communications, technology, construction and financial backgrounds.

Many of you are understandably eager for improvements to internet service. We know from our discussions and research that a 2,000-home network will realistically take about 18 months to design and build. We will do our level best to move things along as quickly as possible while ensuring we are taking the best approach for our community. We have discussed ways to expedite the process, including building in various sectors of the Covenant at the same time, and connecting customers and lighting the network in a rolling fashion. The committee will balance a desire for speed alongside the disruption and cost elements of construction. The competitively-priced product offerings to homeowners and the type of financial participation by the RSF Association are all part of the solution we are working toward. 

As always, the Tech Committee encourages all comments or suggestions on this vital project from our members and Village businesses. You may email the committee at RSFA@RSFAssociation.org.

- Rick Sapp is an RSF Association board member and Technology Committee co-chair. 

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