Can You GIG It? Community-Owned Fiber Internet


by Gary Darling, Todd Kaiser, Robert Nickerson, and Doug Walter

The Internet, like electricity, oil, and steam before it, is now driving today’s economic revolution.

While a city government itself, cannot legislate or produce economic success in a community, or create innovation, it can support the individuals and enterprises within its community by investing in the single most important infrastructure needed for today’s economy. To ensure continued leadership, this city should invest in the most powerful networked capabilities available, fiber-optic Internet cables and switches. Because nothing beats the speed of light.

You can have Fiber Internet and gigabit speeds — but you’ll have to work for it! But if you do, the fiber network will bring revenue back to the city, make Davis a better place for schools, businesses, and neighbors, and able to plan for and meet future telecommunications needs. We can use public utility powers to create a gigabit Internet network in Davis, better than & before any giant corporation will.

Your internet is slow, bandwidth is capped, and exorbitantly expensive. But there are people in the USA using gigabit Internet in their homes. Some were lucky enough to get Google Fiber, but others worked together to start a community gigabit fiber network. According to the Community Broadband Map at, as of Jan 2015 are “over 40 communities in 13 states with a publicly owned network offering at least 1 Gigabit services.”

What is community fiber?

You might have heard it called municipal fiber, or community broadband. It’s a form of Internet infrastructure that supports innovation, safeguards your privacy, encourages service competition, and keeps you from suffering from slow downloads and uploads. We’ve collected a number of relevant documents and web pages that explain where community fiber is already operating, and some of the things people have done when served by it. DavisGIG is a public private partnership model to create Internet infrastructure for a modern city, and see the businesses, students, and prestige that follows.

Davis can have community-owned fiber optic telecommunications as a way of bringing next-generation, gigabit, Internet access. Just like the jump from dialup to DSL/Cable Broadband in 2000, it’s time to do it again. Cities around the country are putting in their own fiber optic, and Davis has the capability to roll its own, new and successful model, of delivering Internet, phone or TV. DavisGIG will be a brand new, state of the art, community-owned and operated, telecommunications network. The Community would own it, a local nonprofit (or cooperative) representing community stakeholders would oversee its install, manage it well, and plan orderly expansion. DavisGIG will lease access to private Internet companies who would provide gigabit Internet Access, phone, or TV services on the community owned fibers.

Community fiber optic cabling will connect to all homes, apartment complexes, businesses, and schools in Davis. Deployed to all neighborhoods, community fiber addresses digital divide issues and will securely and privately connect the entire city. The DavisGIG network will be, private and secure, city-wide Local Area Network (LAN), or more appropriately, Metropolitan Area Network (MAN). For the next 50+ years, no matter what happens on the outside Internet, and independent of citizens purchasing access to the larger ‘Net, homes, businesses, schools, will be transferring data at gigabit speeds to other homes, businesses, schools, and UC Davis.

More Internet provider choices will be available, when we are no longer bound to monopoly-controlled copper phone and cable lines. Instead, we will have our own telecommunications plant and switching between private companies by consumers will be an easy software change.

Much like the copper networks installed 100 years ago, fiber networks will be used for decades to come. With the adoption of fiber optic networks, Davis will remain a leader in science, technology and quality of life. Having the fibers owned by the community, and not one particular business, will be a defining and clear reason for business to locate in Davis.

Removing the physical infrastructure component (the cables, and network electronics) from the control of the traditional Internet Provider, and leasing access to the infrastructure back to those companies gives the citizens as consumers enormous advantage in the marketplace, and it gives the city a revenue stream. Entrepreneurs will stay here when they know their workforce can get gigabit to the world from multiple providers, while their home and business will always be connected together on the community network. Businesses get buried, problem free, tele-communication between residence and business, provided on the local, city-owned, fiber plant. Our success in this venture will be cited as an example of how the Internet and other services should be delivered, with the Internet reconceived as the important utility that it is.

Why is community fiber good for Davis?

You probably don’t have high-speed Internet. According to a recent Yolo County survey, 61% of Davis doesn’t have what the FCC qualifies as broadband access. This report was done before the FCC redefined broadband at 25 Mbps/4 Mbps up. Some 44% of our neighbors don’t have fast enough connections to watch a YouTube video without buffering.

How much of your time is lost to buffering videos on YouTube and Netflix? How many times have your Skype calls dropped unexpectedly? Do you really need the added stress of data caps on your Internet?

The advantages of community fiber address this and more.

Just having the network installed will deliver permanent, fast, reliable, connections between our homes, schools, businesses, government, and UC Davis Campus. It forces big cable and telco competitors to lower their prices and provide a better service offering to compete. The network will address digital divide issues because some of the fees collected through the funding mechanism could provide a minimal level of service to the Internet, say 1 Mbps, to all nodes on the network. Even without buying Gigabit speed access to the greater Internet through a participating private provider, we’ve networked the town. You’ll be able to instantly move gigantic data sets between home and campus, do offsite data backups to our neighbors, direct video chatting and file sharing. Like the early Internet, the possibilities with this model are limited only by our imagination, and will drive innovation and productivity in our community.

Here is just a small selection of the benefits that are made possible through community fiber in Davis:

Best Internet. Truly unlimited, reliable and lightning-fast Internet service at prices that may match–or even beat–currently available triple play plans. Our community nonprofit manages the network and leases access to the network on behalf of the city and citizens to provide roaring speed Internet services over the network.

Business Development. When technology companies discover all the buildings in Davis, residential and commercial, have fiber optic capability, that will pull their interest, we make it on their list. When they discover the open access and community network aspects of our fiber optic, it will be the key decision point for location to our community.

Privacy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s fourth annual “Who Has Your Back” report has made clear that major Internet providers in the US (including those in Davis) lag in privacy protections. A community fiber network will give you choices of providers who aren’t basing their revenue (in part) on selling data about you.

Concomitant Benefit. Reduced maintenance costs, buried and reliable fiber cable, powered by light, means drastically reduced truck rolls. Horizontal boring in neighborhoods, for fiber conduit, can be timed jointly with resurfacing roads. Neighborhood fiber cabinets can become solar powered networked bus stops.

City. Cost recovery through regular and reasonable utility service fees to all home and business owners enjoying the fibers benefits, this pays back the investment. Plus, our city gets an asset, which it realizes revenues on, by leasing access to its fibers to the various retail ISPs you will purchase gigabit service from.

Choice. Your pick from a variety of internet, television, and phone options from multiple providers, all served from the City network. Easy to switch, because they all are virtually on the same physical network. As the city network is being built, our community network non-profit, contracts with these private companies to provide Internet access with our network.

Access. Fast Access Everywhere. When we connect all the homes and businesses, we can make sure everyone has at least basic level network access. The DavisGIG network increases the purchasing power of our citizens who get access to much faster speeds from the private providers leasing access to the network electronics and fiber-optic cables, but it also puts a floor under the entire town, ensuring that no residents are left without some basic level of access to the ‘Net.

Public accountability. Community fiber is made for you. When you have a concern, your voice matters. The city-owned network should be managed and operated by a community non-profit that you can join, and become a member of, Davis Community Network, (DCN). Want to make sure the network runs well?, join the DCN Technical Operations Committee. Having no quarterly profit target to hit, our community network can ensure smooth operation and responsible management. It will leverage the technical expertise of our community and institutional partners on its board and volunteer committees, provide transparent management, and will plan for the network’s growth into other areas of the county.

Many of these things are impossible to implement with our aging networks, but community fiber will open the doors to this and so much more.

How can we bring community fiber to Davis?

It’s going to take work, coordination, and a reasonable level of investment. We can’t have that without you.

Davis was once a leader in Internet connectivity thanks to Davis Community Network. The efforts of this citizen-driven, non-profit organization brought internet access to Davis in 1993. As partners, we plan on leapfrogging Davis out of the “Copper Ages” and into the era of fiber optic networks that boast data speed approaching the speed of light. Several cities across the nation have already brought this dream to life through groups like us. There is only one thing missing: You. With your support we can make sure that Davis remains exceptional.

You can help.

This nascent effort is just underway and now is the time for community members to come forward and show support, visit Join our network of neighbors working to make the next mark on Davis’s legacy of exceptionalism.

This piece was created by Gary Darling, Todd Kaiser, Robert Nickerson, and Doug Walter. Four volunteers of the DavisGIG group and residents of Davis in various professions.


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26 thoughts on “Can You GIG It? Community-Owned Fiber Internet”

  1. Doby Fleeman


    Certainly something must be done.  In our neighborhood ATT has been denying new connection at existing homes.  Seems that FCC and CPUC have no jurisdiction over such actions by monopoly utility providers.

    1. hpierce

      If you live within City limits, Doby, make sure the City knows about it.  AT&T hs  franchise agreement with the City.  What you describe may violate the terms of the agreement.  Give it a shot, can’t hurt.  Not sure who is right person, but I’d start with an e-mail to CM’s office.

      1. SteveM

        The City of Davis has no particular franchise authority over AT&T. It has some over Comcast until 2018, when the existing Comcast cable franchise expires, but the state has taken over cable-tv franchising.

        This is actually part of the reason the City needs to move rapidly on municipal fiber. The city and schools are currently beneficiaries of an institutional network agreement that provides fiber access to most city and school sites over Comcast-owned fiber. That agreement is part of the Comcast franchise, and the city will have no authority or leverage to require its continuance when the franchise expires and the state becomes the franchise authority.

        1. hpierce

          I’ve seen the franchise agreements between the city and: PG&E, AT&T (or one of their previous names… PacBell, whatever), and Comcast.  They existed.  I have not seen the ones currently in effect, but have no doubt they exist.  I stand by my statement until a knowledgeable source in the City says they do not.

          “when the franchise expires and the state becomes the franchise authority”… the PUC can limit the City’s authority in its franchise(s), but until I see a verifiable cite, I stand by my comment.

        2. Steve McMahon

          “On September 29, 2006, the Legislature passed, and Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law Assembly Bill 2987, the Digital Infrastructure and Video Competition Act of 2006 (DIVCA).  Prior to DIVCA, cable television franchises were issued by cities and counties.  DIVCA replaces that system with one in which video franchises are now issued by the CPUC, rather than these local entities.”

  2. Tia Will

    Thanks for the article.

    The last 25 years have been marked by an extremely rapid development of electronic communications. While I do not know enough about internet speeds and the technology necessary to provide high speed access to know if this particular group, about which I will be obtaining more information, is offering the best way to go, I do know enough to be able to surmise that Davis will be better served by forward looking strategies rather than reliance on models that are rapidly becoming outdated, in part due to the rapid advance of the electronic based information technologies and services.


  3. Barack Palin

    What would be the infrastructure cost of building something like this out?  With our roads and all our other backlogs is this really something we should be looking at right now?

    1. Matt Williams

      BP, the simple answer to your question is “Yes, we absolutely should be doing this!”  The reason is simple, the average price of an existing home in an all-fiber Davis will be at least $5,000 greater than in Davis with the current telecommunications infrastructure. That $5,000 may actually be low.  Recently the owners of a home for sale in El Macero received an offer from a qualified buyer, who after having the offer accepted by the seller, contacted the existing Internet Service Provider (ISP) to contract for service.  The ISP told the buyer they could not provide the service requested and the buyer withdrew their offer for the home.  The home subsequently sold for $17,500 less than the original offer.

      Bottom-line, the Davis GIG project is one with an immediate value dividend payback for every homeowner in Davis . . . as well as an immediate quality of life benefit for every resident of Davis.

      1. Barack Palin

        Matt, you’re comparing apples to oranges.  My son was looking at houses in El Macero and was told that he would have to go with satellite Internet with no other choices.  So that’s a big difference than what is offered to most Davis homebuyers.  I currently have many options and don’t believe that fiber is going to increase the value of my house $5000 plus.

        1. Matt Williams

          BP, read the study that SteveM gave the link to.

          The reality is that very few homes in Davis have fiber speed. The best that anyone can get is coaxial cable speed. More and more people are desirous of that kind of infrastructure for their children and themselves. I personally don’t feel the need for that kind of speed. My former El Macero home had DSL from AT&T for internet. Your son (and no doubt his children if he has any) clearly wanted speeds greater than DSL (as did the person who withdrew their purchase offer on the El Macero home), and that is where the rub is. The current infrastructure can’t deliver the desired speed.

          It is worth noting that I play bridge each week with a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker here in Davis, and she confirmed that she has had a substantial number of sales in the past 24 months where the offering price was modified by at least $5,000 downward because the kids who were going to live in the house would not be able to have the same level of streaming that they had become accustomed to in the communities that they were moving from to Davis.

          Further, as Frankly has noted in his prior post, the cost of service for consumers will decrease because the existing monopolies for telephone and cable will come to an end, and consumers will have a choice between competing service providers. Any service provider who wants to deliver its services on the municipal infrastructure will pay the municipal fiber utility a franchise fee.

          In addition, unlike the municipal utility district (DMUD) concept studied 18 months ago (time flies when we’re having fun), the existing fiber I-NET owned by Comcast is currently maintained/operated by Davis Community Network … and they have been doing it for many, many years Therefore there are none of the expertise/skills/bandwidth issues that existed with DMUD.

    2. SteveM

      The fact that we need to be doing road work makes this a good time to be doing this, as we can lay fiber conduit as the roads are improved.

      Fiber to the home investments for comparable communities are typically expected to pay themselves back very quickly, then bring long-term revenue for the city. That’s because the city can charge for use of the fiber. Cities are also typically able to operate a free or very inexpensive “lifeline” service for light Internet users and still show a net profit.

      Cost of bringing fiber to the home or business premises varies dramatically with urban density and availability of existing conduit and pole resources. A typical price per home that I’ve seen in studies is around $2,000. This is, of course, much less for apartments and the large number of apartment buildings in Davis would likely lower our cost-per-residence quite a bit.

      And … various studies have found that a fiber-to-the-home Internet connection’s availability raises the value of a house between 3 and 5 percent. In Davis, that will be a good bit more than the price of building the connection. (In a few years, I think these studies will instead be talking about how much the lack of a fiber connection hurts a home’s price.)

      In short, the economics are solid.

      1. hpierce

        To Steve M’s comment:  Partially correct. It is VERY impotant that any facilities placed in the roadway, PRIOR to any re-surfacing or other measures.  But based on my knowledge and experience, at least ONE YEAR before.  Even then, as much of the work that can be done by boring/micro-tunnelling should be performed in those manners.

        The chief cause of failures to AC pavement (except for is the introduction of moisture causing weakness to the underlying soils.  A trench, open cut, is like surgery, a cutting of the flesh. Even with good “patching”, the edges of the excavation are much like suture lines… prone to the opportunity for “infection”.  In most ‘patching’, full stability of the compaction, including compaction/settlement under traffic loads, takes 6 mos to a year.  At least at the depths (shallow) that these facilities will be constructed.  Just info, but I thank Steve for pointing out that things that sound good, look good on paper, need to be fully thought out prior to implementation.

        BTW, for those who are convinced the City employees are stupid, etc., PW had placed a number of empty conduits in arterial streets, starting in the early 90’s, belonging to the City, that may well still be available. Those employees anticipated that “something” might be coming 10, 20, 50 years later, that the conduits might serve without cutting the pavement.

        1. SteveM

          Great information! Just a note: while we should lay conduit whenever we trench, trenching is no longer necessary to lay conduit. Horizontal boring is often used these days to place conduit without trenching.

        2. hpierce

          Actually I said that, Steve, but entry/receiving pits are generally needed (pavement cuts), and the individual services will need to be well-planned (“nodes” serving serveral sites, behind the pavement), as the boring/microtunnelling works pretty well for trunk and distribution facilities, not so much for individual services.

      2. Davis Progressive

        “The fact that we need to be doing road work makes this a good time to be doing this, as we can lay fiber conduit as the roads are improved.”

        another good point

    3. Todd Kaiser

      Municipal fiber can become a huge source of revenue for the city. If roughly 1/3rd of the houses (8,250) sign up for a $60/month plan, the gross total is around $6 million a year. It should not take long to pay off a revenue bond given that fiber has pretty low maintenance costs.

  4. Frankly

    Fiber to homes and business will increase property values.  And it will help many people cut expenses for TV entertainment and Music too.  With the higher bandwidth you can stream TV, music and movies at a lower cost that traditional methods.

    It is really a shame that WiMax (IEEE 802.16) technology died on the vine… going the way of LTE.  Basically the cellular network companies did a good enough job ramping up their bandwidth offerings and killed WiMax.  Because if they had not killed WiMax, it would have been a reasonable alternative to fiber.

    However, we should not rule out WiFi Internet infrastructure as an option to fiber… or as a complement to it to provide a city-wide municipal Internet broadband service.

    Lincoln Nebraska for example installed a city WiFi service contracting with  As I understand this is a largely self-managing system that provides higher speeds to paying customers, and free Internet access for everyone else… at reasonable speeds.

    The cost of a WiFi system would probably be a lot lower than would be a fiber system… except maybe where we are tearing up roads where the fiber can be laid.   But one challenge will be for those sensitive to having new utility poles or roof-top repeater antenna.   Davisites like their hi-tech communication services as long as they don’t have to see any of the infrastructure.

    1. SteveM

      WiMAX would have been a good way to improve on the Comcast and AT&T infrastructure if we’d begun it several years ago. But it would have left us stranded with a poorly supported standard. And it’s barely able to deliver current broadband standards (the FCC standard is currently 25MBPS) much less tomorrow’s under practical conditions. Only fiber is going to do that.

        1. omrob Post author

          Unlicensed wireless connections are not a very solid foundation for a telecommunications infrastructure. 802.11ac is here.

          So is xfinitywifi.

          802.11ac uses a lot of spectrum (80 Mhz)  and it works ok in a lab environment with no RF interference, it works in a house ok.  Real world Point to Point applications are good, again with no interference.  Point to multipoint – not so good.  Since its unlicensed, anyone can come along with their xfiniti wifi AP and disrupt the airwaves.

          Sorry but WiFi is not what everyone wants it to be, and it wont be.

          Right now our city is at a competitive disadvantage, needs revenues, and a SPARK to attract business development. This delivers that and more.

          Plus, when this is done you can use it to put in your free wireless Internet solution in place on top of it.

        2. Frankly


          At another residents in a mountain community I had 802.11G WiFi Internet service from DigitalPath (Chico company).  It was very reliable.  Only lost the signal when there was a lot of snow.  Home is three blocks away from an airport.  I switched to cable DSL after they screwed up on a billing and I lost my fixed IP address… then requiring me to reprogram my security system which was a PITA.

          The “om” in your moniker makes me wonder if you are connected with Omsoft.  I actually had Omsoft WiFi service years ago in West Davis because there was nothing else available at the time.  I wasn’t real happy with the reliability, but at the time I diagnosed the problem as the company owner and technicians being in over their heads dealing with their infrastructure technology.

  5. omrob Post author

    Oh yes, I’m that very same owner.

    As a DigitalPath customer in Chester CA we had nothing but problems, after many replacements of hardware. We had to stop working with them and rely on just a frontier telecom DSL at another business location owned by a family member.

    Wireless deployments are variable, and some of that early equipment was pretty poor compared to what we have available now.   Still there is  no comparison with the reliability and speed of  fiber-optic cable, nor is it as attractive to businesses. Are there studies showing that cities with free WiFi have a boost in property values?

    I don’t think so.

    1. Frankly

      Well hi there omrob.  Since you are still in business, I assume you got the reliability problems solved.

      Interesting about your experience with DigitalPath in Chester.   We are same same.   Except for the 5 years I had that service, it was pretty good.  That is the thing with WiFi, as you say, it has a lot more variables… many uncontrollable.

      I don’t see free WiFi boosting property values, but certainly high-speed fiber will do the trick.

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