If you live in the mountains, this starts off as a familiar story: you’re enjoying the paradisiacal life offered by living in the Santa Cruz mountains, and you’ve slowly managed to build most of the conveniences of city life into your rural/mountain home. But too often, this ends with your internet service. The major carriers (who fill your mailbox with offers that aren’t available to you) can offer their service up to a finite distance from the nearest switching point or Central Office. The speed of your service is determined by your home’s distance from that point, which explains why your neighbors up the street claim to have “great internet”, but you are only crawling along with 1-2 megabits/second (below the broadband poverty level of 6mb).
This was the story on Riva Ridge, saddled with an outdated “DSL” internet system with a 6-mile distance limitation. Riva Ridge neighbors, Steve Hand and Terry Leary have plead their case to the telecom giants, in favor of upgrading or building a new system for Riva Ridge. But, extending that system made no financial sense to the big providers. Comcast estimated a cost of $250,000 to residents of Riva Ridge for building their service!
But, there is always something newer/cheaper/faster in the world of technology. Right? The latest buzzword in high speed internet is “5G” and if you haven’t heard of it yet, you’ll be getting an earful over the next 2 years as all major carriers roll out this latest and greatest technology in 2020. While the major carriers argue over the last details of their 5G standards, our local internet service provider, Surfnet Communications has been deploying the latest new equipment that uses these “5G” technologies with the goal of providing higher bandwidth services in existing coverage areas and serving a number of areas that were previously underserved.
Surfnet recently piloted a new 5G site on Riva Ridge, and the internet speeds were off the charts for their initial test cases – even in trees under Non-Line-Of-Site (NLOS) conditions
DSL service would sometimes reach 15 megabits on a good day, whereas the new service from Surfnet is consistently 40 megabits per second.
You may have heard of Surfnet Communications: a local provider of internet service in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They started providing internet service almost 20 years ago and have expanded their service as far as San Luis Obispo, while remaining dedicated to their community roots in Santa Cruz. The hands-on local model differentiates Surfnet from the telecommunications corporations and is one of their core values according to Mark Morgenthaler, CEO of Surfnet Communications. “Our company was built on this approach. The communities we serve are the communities where we live: Santa Cruz Mountains, North Monterey County, San Luis Obispo.”
The secret to Surfnet’s small cells depends on just the right mix of technology, experience and community support. Surfnet brings a super high speed internet connection right into the neighborhood (this is what Comcast wanted $250,000 for) and then they use strategic locations in the community to distribute the network out to residents. This creates a small “cell” of really fast internet service.
Surfnet’s small cell sites use wireless technology that cut through trees, like the heavily wooded Riva Ridge area. Their pilot has worked so well, that Surfnet is now using the Riva Ridge model as the prototype for upgrading their current and future networks.
“Sometimes a single small cell is sufficient to serve the community. This is where we were happy to meet Steve Hand, who understood the technology and how it could help the community if we worked at a local level”, says Morgenthaler.
Morgenthaler explains, “In large areas, we might create multiple small cell sites. The point is, once we’ve got the backhaul connection, we can keep scaling.”
In this case, Surfnet has connected Riva Ridge to their new 10 Gigabit fiber connection in Los Gatos.
Surfnet is not the only internet service provider working to upgrade internet service in remote areas. Fortunately, there are several local companies like Surfnet, Etheric, and Ridge that provide alternatives to the large carriers; these local providers are eager and willing to work with communities to make high speed internet a reality.
If your mountain community needs an internet overhaul, give these local providers a call. Don’t be surprised if they are really interested in surveying your neighborhood, looking for strategic locations for their small cells, and asking who are the tech savvy neighbors who might want to support this.
As the saying goes, “it takes a village”.