City moves forward with initiative to increase Internet access through fiber technology

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The city’s Office of Economic Development has introduced plans to implement fiber-optic technology in order to increase high-speed Internet access in Berkeley.

The fiber initiative began with a June 2015 assessment of the city’s broadband services conducted by Tellus Venture Associates, a consulting firm for community broadband. The assessment gave the city of Berkeley, excluding UC Berkeley, a grade of “C-” on broadband infrastructure and noted that service levels were especially poor in the Berkeley Hills residential area and in Downtown and West Berkeley.

Michael Caplan, manager of the city’s Office of Economic Development, said the initial 2015 study was conducted in response to the needs of Berkeley’s budding startup sector. According to Caplan, the growth of architecture firms and other startups in the city requires “robust” electric wiring to facilitate the uploading and downloading of large files.

Caplan added that the objective of the initial assessment was to gain a better understanding of the types of conduit — tubing that protects electric wiring — that the city currently uses. The assessment also aimed to identify conduit that could accommodate high-speed fiber in the future.

“Any city like Berkeley that is a center for startups and knowledge-based industries needs this initiative,” Caplan said. “Our office has been championing it for a while now.”

In total, the city controls at least 8 miles of conduit that could be used to house a high-speed Internet framework. A contract between the city and Tellus Venture Associates, finalized in January, will help city staff in their efforts to lease Berkeley-owned conduit or fiber to third-party telecommunications providers.

According to a Berkeley City Council report, city staff have also assessed the abilities of local telecommunication engineering firms to survey city-owned conduit in the Downtown Berkeley area. A contract for this survey is expected to be confirmed by May, according to the Tuesday City Council meeting agenda.

Jay Kim, senior technical project manager of UC Berkeley’s Information Services and Technology center, said the transition from copper-based wiring to fiber-optic cables has become a nationwide phenomenon. Kim added that the Berkeley campus uses fiber-optic cables for all of its data needs and that such fiber-optic technology typically lasts a great deal longer than 50 years.

According to Kim, the implementation of fiber-optic wiring throughout the city of Berkeley will facilitate the delivery of far-reaching and high-quality Internet service.

“The AirBears Wi-Fi signal carries all throughout the campus,” Kim said. “We are constantly working to fill gaps inside and outside the buildings. … It will be great for both the campus community and city residents if the city can completely cover the Downtown area.”

Contact Harini Shyamsundar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hshyamsundar.