If things go according to the tentative plans laid out for the Atherton City Council on May 7, Atherton could have a town-wide, very high-speed optical fiber network installed by next year, designed to provide faster and more reliable Internet service than now available, with the goal of free basic service for everyone in town.
For the past year, council members Rick DeGolia and Bill Widmer and other members of the town's Technology Committee have been exploring the idea of a town-wide Internet system.
Mr. DeGolia said many ideas were discussed and discarded, including a wireless system and a joint town-private company venture. The committee also asked 10 companies if they had interest in providing a system, but not one even responded, Mr. DeGolia said.
So committee member Mike Farmwald decided to form a private company to install high-end optical fiber cable, which is capable, at a minimum, of providing Internet at 1,000 times the speeds conventional Internet providers now supply.
The company, which will probably be called Atherton Fiber, is privately owned and hopes to raise money through private Atherton investors. The plan is to offset the free underground installation of one fiber optic cable to each property by selling a bundle of four fibers to those interested in additional service, at a cost Mr. DeGolia said is currently believed to be a one-time $6,000 payment. The buyer would own the fiber cables and they would be part of the property if it were ever sold. Residents would be responsible for connecting the cable from the street to their homes.
Atherton Fiber would then allow Internet service providers to lease use of the installed system. Mr. DeGolia said this would introduce more competition into providing Internet service and should lead to "both reduction in cost and a guarantee of better service."
"We'd like to have a basic, reasonable level of service available to residents at no cost," Mr. DeGolia said, but those details remain to be worked out.
Mr. Farmwald said the committee and Atherton Fiber have been talking to Google about providing service. "I feel pretty good about getting a deal with them," he said.
The Atherton Library could also be part of a town-wide system. Mr. DeGolia said the library could lease space over the fiber network "which would enable them to directly deliver programming" to everyone using the Atherton Fiber network.
Mr. Widmer said other libraries now provide technical support to some of their customers, "which we thought was very attractive and good use of our library money."
The fiber optic system, Mr. Farmwald said, is technologically advanced enough that it should be able to provide service for at least the next 25 years. He said it is capable of transmitting data at speeds measured in terabits per second, which would mean the entire contents of a high-end personal computer's hard disk theoretically could be transmitted in less than 10 seconds.
Initially, Internet service providers are expected to offer services in the range of 1-10 gigabits per second, Mr. Farmwald said.
Mr. DeGolia said the goal is not only to provider faster, more reliable service today, but to provide a system "that will really serve us well into the future" as well as to "give a chance to the library to really define what it means to be a 21st century library."
By July, Atherton Fiber plans to present the results of an engineering study to the council, with the hopes of having a contract ready to sign by November. The timetable has construction of the fiber network beginning by March, and Mr. Farmwald said it would take a number of months to build.
More information about Atherton Fiber is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.