Public interest in building a fiber optic network throughout the city has increased recently, after a Comcast outage last month left several hundred homes in Pleasanton without internet service for much of a day.
With more people working and studying from home these days, the movement for improving the city's network infrastructure is gaining momentum among residents.
A new group on NextDoor called "Improving Pleasanton's Internet" has more than 50 members and continues to grow while also starting conversations about the issue with city leaders, group leader Evan Miller told the Weekly.
"There's been a shift towards working from home that the pandemic has massively accelerated, so the importance of home internet is far more than it was in 2020," Miller said.
Internet service providers "are one of those areas where everyone's generally quite disgruntled."
"Most people aren't technical enough to understand what their options are and what to ask for," Miller said. "We're hoping to bring together more technical people who can navigate all this stuff and all the residents who care about it but don't know what to do next."
Earlier this year, the city's Economic Vitality Committee recommendation to prioritize creating a fiber network and combine it with large-scale projects like the Stoneridge Mall Framework was scrapped.
According to the committee's Feb. 18 meeting minutes, staff said "fiber planning is dependent on service providers and that city staff in engineering and other departments was already coordinating applications for infrastructure upgrades, such that it would be appropriate to consider removing this priority from the recommendations."
Miller said anything built "would certainly be piecemeal, anything we do is going to be incremental improvements," but that ultimately the group is interested in "discovering if it's feasible to build and operate our own municipal fiber network."
"The vast majority of (ISPs) are not actually providing direct internet connectivity to the home," Miller said. "That could be part of the picture, the city could develop parts of core infrastructure and maybe entice other ISPs to come in and work with the last-mile bits."
"Apartment buildings and other more dense living situations are good targets because you only need to dig a single line to get to dozens of homes," he added.
During a special meeting and workshop for the city's draft work plan last Wednesday, City Councilmember Jack Balch said, "There's frustration that providers have a proprietary network and they don't want to make it public with the cities from what we understand."
"I think we need to think of it in a different paradigm, which is the challenge of understanding our public right-of-way so that we can continue to provide opportunity for high-speed internet throughout our community," Balch said.
City Manager Nelson Fialho said Balch's comment "about proprietary information not being shared with the city is spot-on," and explained the city has "tried to get that information and we just can't."
State and federal laws "don't give us the ability to have that information, even though they're using our public right-of-way," and even though the city has about 10 active permits for installing fiber over the past year, Fialho said ISPs are "fairly tightlipped about what they're putting in."
However, "there's a lot of fiber being installed currently," he added, though "it may not solve the alternative to Comcast."
In one instance, Verizon put in 23 miles of fiber line and managed right-of-way to ensure the city knows where the infrastructure is located and recorded in the Dig Alert system, while another nine miles of empty conduit mostly laid in a business park is available for private utilities to use to expand fiber throughout the park.
The city is looking to "engage in some ideas and explore some possibilities," Fialho said. "We don't know that it's a fiber master plan; we think it's more of a 'what are the options that we can really get behind and support, and maybe someday potentially fund'. But I don't think it requires the effort that a fiber master plan calls for."
Miller told the council that "this isn't about any particular outage. Developing a more robust backbone for the city has all sorts of benefits in terms of stability and diversity of choice, and making events like this possible, where we're all talking with each other."
Former council member Becky Dennis -- also a member of Improving Pleasanton's Internet -- said the recent outage "uncovered an extraordinary amount of interest in having a robust broadband service for the city."
"A lot of people depend on that service and I think probably every resident in the city has the interest," Dennis said. "A master plan is not just figuring out how to serve the Stoneridge Drive Specific Plan. It shouldn't just be driven by Comcast or broadband providers, in my opinion."
To that end, Dennis has been helping the group navigate some of their interactions with the city and said she's "going to urge people not to give up their platform, because when the City Council has identified something as a priority, that gives the public more access and gives staff more time to spend on it."
"We have master plans for everything … I don't understand why we should not have a fiber master plan," Dennis added.
Comcast did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lengthy April 16 outage as well as the larger issues raised by the resident group.