Rancho Santa Fe tech panel touts fiber network

The Rancho Santa Fe Association’s technology committee is working on its messaging to the community as it looks to get people to sign up for its Hotwire fiber-to-home network.

The committee hopes to develop a brand to market to homeowners as they build a one gigabit to 10 gigabit network that will make Rancho Santa Fe “the most connected community in the country.”

At a meeting on July 11, the committee decided that before community members hear anything from Hotwire in mailers and brochures, members need to hear from the Association.

“We need to sell this to our community first. It’s not so much a technology sale as it is a ‘Why are we doing this?’ And that’s a big concern right now. I’ve gotten a lot of people who have said ‘Why do we need it?’, ‘I don’t even use internet’ and we’ve got to solve all of these issues,” said new committee member Charlie Christ. “We need a sale of the hearts and minds of people in this town, to be convinced that we’re doing the right thing with their money.”

Allen Finkelson, board member and tech committee member, agreed that residents need to understand why fiber is important, why the Association needs to own the network and how it is an investment in the community for the future.

“We need to put the credibility of this group behind it to sell it,” Finkelson said.

The July 11 committee and special Association board meeting was intended to be a precursor to a town hall meeting, but the committee has decided to slow things down before the town meeting is held and to get the new board members brought up to speed. The deadline to sign up has also been extended to Sept. 30 and the Association is targeting an October community-wide vote.

As tech committee chair Philip Wilkinson stated, the Association has set an uptake level of 1,200 subscribers to make the project financially feasible. The financing is still being determined but through the terms of the Hotwire letter of intent, the Association will fund the full $13.5 million cost of the construction through Covenant Enhancement Funds and bank loans. Hotwire has also committed to invest $5 million in additional revenue to design and build the network.

So far, 260 people have signed up on the rsfcommunications.com website. No upfront money or contract is required for the pre-sign up — just an interest in the fiber project and at what level.

Those who sign up early receive a $150 credit. After Sept. 30, the one-time hook-up fee will also increase.

Wilkinson said the right way to think of this project is as a critical utility that they need to make an investment in. While some Covenant homes are unable to download a movie on Netflix, surrounding communities such as The Bridges, Crosby and Cielo all have high-speed internet 100 megabits. Wilkinson said in three years, the average smart home in this country will need five gigabits.

“Technology is changing so rapidly, even if you’re only using 25 megabits now, it will all change in the next three to five years,” Wilkinson said. “I firmly believe if we don’t have a vibrant infrastructure, fiber to the home, it’s going to significantly impact values of our homes.”

Finkelson said there is some worry about getting the 1,200 number of sign ups and also the risk of getting to the number of pre-sign ups, but then having only 600 hookups.

“In technology there is no way to proceed without risk,” board and committee member Mike Licosati said, noting Google could launch balloons to provide free internet for everybody in two years that would make this project worthless. “For right now and as far out as we can see, this is the best solution. It’s going to raise our home values significantly. If we attempt to completely de-risk this, we’ll do nothing and continue to fall further behind.

“I would not consider it a failure if we only got 600 sign ups because I think we would raise everybody’s home values by an order of magnitude by the amount of money that we spent.”

For Covenant residents, there will be a one-time connection fee of $525 for gigabit internet and up to $2,000 for the 10 gigabit service. As every house is unique, some properties may require different routing for the fiber and cost more money. That construction cost will be disclosed to homeowners before they sign any agreement.

Per the rate sheet on the website, gigabit internet will be $129.99 a month and 10 gigabit internet $299.99 a month. The committee opted to add a 25 megabit option to the pre-sign up for those who want to work their way up to a gigabit — that rate will be at $49.99 a month. Rate packages for phone and television are also included on the site.

Sign up and learn more at rsfcommunications.com.

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