Sonic Disrupts Potrero Hill

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Last spring, Sonic, a Santa Rosa-based internet service provider, launched service in several San Francisco neighborhoods, including Potrero Hill, advancing an internet access alternative for residents and businesses. The growing company offers Gigabit Fiber Internet, which transmits data at a rate of 1,000 megabits a second, with download speeds 50 times the national average. Unlimited net access plus home phone service costs $40 monthly, low compared to major competitors. AT&T has a $40 per month internet access plan, with 50 megabits per second speed.

“Across San Francisco, we’ve seen huge market demand for not only high-speed Gigabit Fiber internet but for an alternative competitive carrier that won’t throttle speeds and that will treat customers fairly,” offered Stephen Bradley, Sonic’s director of consumer sales and marketing. “Sonic has long believed that access to fast, affordable internet is a basic right, and our continued expansion in the Bay Area shows our commitment to making this a reality.”

Sonic’s Gigabit Fiber Internet is a fiber-to-the-premise internet connection; the company provides fiber all the way to the house, thereby endowing it with faster download and upload speeds. When installers arrive at a residence they access the nearest utility pole holding the terminal that distributes fiber, from which they pull fiber using an aerial drop. They hook that up to the home’s optical network terminal and use existing ethernet infrastructure to attach the ONT to the residential gateway to begin providing internet and WiFi service. Once that’s complete, the installation crew goes to the local convergence point to connect the home to the backbone fiber network.  

Sonic operates its internet service in more than 125 California cities and continues to grow. The company markets itself as a more honest and transparent alternative to Comcast and AT&T.  Chief Executive Officer Dane Jasper supports net neutrality, a controversial regulation that mandates that the internet operate at equal speeds for content providers regardless of how much they pay.

“Our values are really what define Sonic, and we’ve never wavered in our principle of providing access to fast, affordable internet,” Bradley commented. “Sonic always has and always will keep our internet connections fair and open. That means customers can watch what they want, when they want, on any content provider they choose. It also means we will continue to protect customers’ right to privacy, and their right to not have their own data sold or shared. We will never charge our consumers more to access certain sites, and we will never slow down others for any reason. For us, the responsibility we have to our members is not a passing trend. We’ll continue to back up our words with official policies that benefit our customers.”

According to Bradley, Potrero Hill residents have been excited about the newly available ISP. However, for some the additional above-ground wires augment the existing convoluted tangle of overhead cables that extend between poles in many parts of the City, polluting views, and, in some cases, creating hazards.

Kenneth Walvroff, an 18th Street resident for 50 years, was dismayed last spring when he saw installation workers anchoring guy wires from telephone poles to the ground right outside the walkway in front of his home. Walvroff has mobility challenges, with knees made of titanium, and was afraid that the ground wires would cause him to stumble and fall. He called the police; they told him that the workers had proper permits.

Walvroff continued to pursue the issue, contacting the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Dogpatch Neighborhood Association and San Francisco Department of Public Works. He eventually communicated with Sonic directly; the company hastily agreed to divert the wires so that they run from pole to pole instead of from the ground. However, Walvroff remains concerned that the City wasn’t able to address his plight in any way.

“The folks at Sonic apologized to me and said that their hope was to please everyone,” explained Walvroff. “For a while I was upset but now I feel good about it. I’m perfectly happy with the resolution and I’m not pushing the issue anymore. My neighbors have said that they’re happy with the Sonic internet service. I might consider it in the future as the price is reasonable.”

In May the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report detailing a possible Citywide fiber-optic internet network that’d be affordable and accessible to all residents and business in an attempt to bridge the digital divide. The initiative was spearheaded by former Mayor Mark Farrell who’s also a committee co-chair of San Franciscans for Municipal Fiber, which seeks to make internet a utility as accessible as water or power. As part of the enterprise the City would own the ubiquitous network, partnering with private companies to build and operate it.

“The network has the potential to generate significant economic returns, including higher property valuations, lower prices for broadband service, business development, and job growth,” the report concluded. “In addition to selling internet connectivity, the network could be leased to other customers, such as wireless providers or advertisers, generating additional revenue. It could also enable new types of government services and private industry that enhance the well-being of San Franciscans.”