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Sonoma County’s Sonic expands gigabit fiber in East Bay, San Francisco Peninsula

After installing gigabit fiber to businesses and homes in San Francisco over the past several years, Santa Rosa-based internet service provider Sonic has shifted its Northern California expansion of these connections for the moment to the East Bay and Peninsula, according to CEO Dane Jasper.

After installations in Brentwood, Berkeley and Albany, the company currently is installing cables to Oakland properties and has projects going in San Carlos, Burlingame, Daly City and Redwood City.

“Oakland is the second large flagship Bay Area city that we’re launching,” Jasper told the Business Journal.

A major catalyst for this expansion was Sonic’s winning of a bid to supply the data network for city schools, he said.

“Oakland Unified School District’s procurement of Sonic fiber created an opportunity for Sonic to build a citywide backbone to interconnect all of the public schools,” Jasper said. “Those schools are in neighborhoods, so schools are in a unique position to catalyze new development.”

The same opportunity came up when Sonic won contracts for the Old Adobe and Petaluma City Schools districts a few years ago, followed by fiber to city government facilities. That led to extension of fiber to business parks at the north and south end of the city as well as to surrounding homes.

After Berkeley schools were encountering difficulty with spotty high-speed internet connections needed for distance learning in the pandemic, Sonic recently announced it would provide fiber-to-the-home service to about 7,000 households, covering around 10,000 students, free of charge through the end of this year.

Sonic’s first fiber-to-the-home projects were Sebastopol and Brentwood. The latter was attractive because the East Bay city was an early adopter of construction standards that make installation of fiber-optic conduits more feasible in areas where cable television, electrical and phone utility lines for neighborhoods have been shifted underground, Jasper said.

Unlike traditional joint utility trenches that are 5 to 8 feet deep and several inches wide, microtrenches for the half-inch-diameter fiber conduits are 10-18 inches deep and 1-2 inches wide. For older neighborhoods with aerial utility connections, the fiber conduits are connected to homes or businesses from poles.

Sonic approached the city of Santa Rosa about 10 years ago for the OK to microtrench for expansion of fiber in an existing business park, and city was willing to allow it under limited pilot program that would allow officials to better understand potential long-term impacts to roadways, according to Gabe Osburn, deputy director of development services. Sonic ended up using traditional bore and trenching methods.

“Since that point, applications from all of the service providers, including Sonic, have involved traditional bore and trenching methods,” Osburn said in an email. “Sonic is currently upgrading infrastructure in the City’s downtown core utilizing traditional construction methods. We have not received recent requests for microtrenching from any of the active communication providers. Our willingness to review this technology and potentially incorporate an allowance under a pilot program has not changed and we are prepared to respond to the requests when they are received.”

Sonic has leveraged a relationship with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit to extend its fiber backbone in both counties, Jasper said.

“That’s been key,” he said.

The company supplies SMART with fiber for crossing signals as well as station ticketing kiosks and WiFi. From conduits along the rail line, Sonic has lit up multiple business parks, including Airport Business Park and North Dutton Business Park in Santa Rosa, South McDowell Business Park in Petaluma, the former State Farm complex in Rohnert Park, and Hamilton Landing and Bel Marin Keys in Novato.

The planned extension of SMART service to Windsor, expected to be completed early next year, will include extension of fiber to that town, Jasper said.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He has a degree from Walla Walla University. Reach him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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