Homes and businesses across metropolitan Bakersfield would get the option of contracting high-speed internet service as part of a $400 million fiber-optics system a Delaware-based company is negotiating with the county of Kern and the city of Bakersfield.
At no cost to taxpayers, SiFi Networks proposes to lay fiber-optic cable along every street in the area, including Fuller Acres, Lamont and Oildale, within four years. The company would sell access to private internet service providers that would, in turn, offer the service to individual customers.
Residential customers would get access to 10 gigabytes per second of data for about $60 per month, while businesses would have the option of paying $99 per month for internet service as fast as 100 gigabytes per second, according to a presentation Tuesday by staff to the county Board of Supervisors.
“Very exciting. It’s going to be great for all of our residents,” board Chairman Zack Scrivner said after the supervisors’ unanimous vote to receive and file information on the proposal.
A vote on whether to enter into a formal development agreement with SiFi is expected next month; it would be followed by further discussions with the county and city, potentially allowing construction to begin in spring.
Fiber optics infrastructure allows data to move at the speed of light, free of conventional broadband limitations. Driven by escalating demand from users of internet-connected devices, it exists at some businesses and institutions but has not been broadly available to consumers in Kern.
County staff say the proposed SiFi system could drive down costs, promote innovation and introduce competition in an industry that has, in some instances, been limited to a small group of localized service providers.
Speaking in support of the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting, Michael Turnipseed, a resident of unincorporated east Bakersfield, said SiFi’s project has the potential to improve service in an area that, by his count, has suffered five major internet outages so far this year, one of which lasted three days.
“We need competition,” Turnipseed said. “Too many people don’t have internet. They need to get it.”
SiFi’s vice president of government relations, Shawn Parker, said Thursday the company offers subsidies that make the service available to poor and disadvantaged people for about $30 per month. He noted this private discount can be combined with federal and state subsidies that bring the cost down further.
The company is deploying, or has already set up, fiber optic systems in more than two dozen US cities as far away as the Northeast and as near as the Antelope Valley. In Kern, SiFi would own, maintain and operate the fiber-optics system. But if it walks away, the infrastructure would belong to the county or the city, depending where it’s located.
Kern’s chief operations officer, James Zervis, told the board Tuesday that the city and the county have been collaborating on the proposal to come up with uniform design standards.
The general idea is that SiFi would dig “micro-trenches” along street gutters in public right-of-ways, making progress of about 2,500 feet per day, Zervis said as part of a slideshow presentation. If a resident or business wants to contract the service, he added, a line would be connected from the street to the interior of the property.
There would also need to be at least eight cabinet-like shelters built around the metropolitan area to house equipment to serve the network.
As proposed, the Delaware company would not have exclusive rights to install fiber optics, meaning another company could come into with a plan to install its own network alongside SiFi’s.