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Comcast told him it would cost $17,000 to speed up his internet. He rallied 41 South Bay neighbors to build their own lightning-fast fiber-optic network instead

Elissa Welle, The Mercury News on

Published in Business News

A group of Los Altos Hills, California, residents is standing up to internet giants Comcast and AT&T.

Tech-rich but internet-poor, residents of the Silicon Valley neighborhood were fed up with sluggish broadband speeds of less than 25 Megabits-per-second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload — the federal definition of a home unserved by adequate internet.

Frustrated by the take-it-or-leave-it attitude of internet providers, they created their own solution — and now this tony enclave has one of the fastest residential speeds in the nation.

Scott Vanderlip, a software engineer, said Comcast gave him a $17,000 estimate to connect his home to the faster internet service at a neighbor’s home.

“You got to be kidding me – I can see it on the pole from my driveway,” Vanderlip said, remembering his reaction to Comcast’s quote.

So the self-described “town rebel” jumped at the chance to partner with a startup internet service provider called Next Level Networks. If Vanderlip could rally a few neighbors willing to invest a couple thousand dollars, Next Level would get them very fast internet.

 

That was in 2017. Now, Vanderlip is president of the Los Altos Hills Community Fiber Association, which provides super-fast speeds — up to 10 Gigabits-per-second upload and download — to its over 40 association members, letting them transfer huge files and load webpages in the click of a computer mouse, Vanderlip said. That’s 125 times faster than the average download speed in Santa Clara County.

The status quo of broadband communication — the passing of large amounts of data from one place to another at the same time — uses telephone wires or copper coaxial cables owned by big companies like Comcast, Spectrum and AT&T.

This copper-based internet is all that’s available to nearly 60% of the homes in the United States, according to the Fiber Broadband Association. Four in 10 adults earning less than $30,000 a year did not have broadband internet access at home in 2021, according to Pew surveys. And many Americans have no internet at all.

“We can’t keep begging the Comcasts and the AT&Ts of the world to build out a network that ensures everybody in our community has (internet) that is reliable and affordable,” said Sean Gonsalves, who works on community broadband networks at the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

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