Frustrated with slow internet speeds, Atherton resident Mike Farmwald took matters into his own hands.
Farmwald, who describes himself as a disgruntled former Comcast and AT&T customer, used his own money to invest in creating a fiber optic network, known as Atherton Fiber, in Atherton and North Fair Oaks, an unincorporated area between Redwood City and Menlo Park. This spring the company began to offer the service to residents.
"Good internet connectivity is as important as good electricity," said Gerry Lawlor, CEO of Atherton Fiber's parent company, Open5G. "We live a connected life. There's not much we can do on a day-to-day basis without it. The country has underperformed in solving this problem in all facets."
Fiber-optic networking consists of bundles of tiny clear glass or plastic fibers rather than copper wires, according to the company. Because fiber transmits light instead of electrical signals, data travels faster.
Lawlor, who lives in a remote area of Washington, started his own broadband company before connecting with Farmwald in spring of 2020. They started installations around then. Internet speeds start at 500 megabits per second.
The company is also providing lower-income communities with free service. It currently serves parts of North Fair Oaks with free, 1-gigabit fiber, compared with Comcast's 100-megabits for downloads and 10 megabits for uploads, according to Atherton Fiber.
Atherton Fiber offers 1-gigabit broadband service for $65 per month (and 500-megabit service for $55 per month) and expects to roll out 2.5-gigabit service later this year. In contrast, other providers are offering 2-gigabit service with much lower upload speeds, according to the company.
A good indicator of customer success? Not hearing from them, Lawlor said.
"That's a vote of confidence," he said.
Atherton Fiber plans to expand into nearby Woodside, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Mountain View, Palo Alto and other California cities over the coming year.
So far, there are over 1,000 sign-ups, with about 70% of customers living in Atherton, said Lawlor. Atherton Mayor Rick DeGolia is among them.
"I am very happy with the service that I've received and with the speed that they have provided, which has eliminated delays and interruptions in the many Zoom meetings in which I participate," DeGolia said in a statement.
In 2014, the Atherton City Council created an IT committee to figure out to best provide residents with fast, reliable broadband service since existing internet providers were not meeting their needs, he said.
"After a thorough investigation, we decided to support the private company, Atherton Fiber, which was created by one of the committee members to deploy dark fiber throughout our town," he said.
The town is providing an open access network to its residents, and Atherton Fiber is in discussions with other cities about the potential for this type of network.
The company is in the process of raising $500 million in seed funding, according to Lawlor.
For high-income homes and businesses seeking even higher-speed broadband connectivity, Atherton Fiber can deliver 10 gigabits of fiber service for up to $15,000 installation charge plus a $300 monthly fee through its personal fiber license service. The service guarantees an exclusive connection directly from the network hub to the customer premises on for 30 years.
For more on Open5G and Atherton Fiber, go to here.