One of Santa Cruz’s biggest tech stories of the year somehow ended up flying a little under the radar. But what happened downtown in 2018 has significant implications, not just for tech companies, but also for the future of the local economy.
The Santa Cruz Fiber project, which was years in the making, is now a reality for some businesses and residents, bringing high-speed internet access to accommodate growing connectivity demands.
Santa Cruz-based Cruzio Internet is lighting up fiber connections in its first “fiberhood” downtown, including parts of River Street, Pacific Avenue, Front Street, and Cedar Street.
Conversations about building the gigabit-speed internet network (that’s 1,000 megabits per second) began years ago between Cruzio and the city of Santa Cruz. When it became clear that the city wasn’t ready to move forward with its end of the partnership, Cruzio proceeded on its own for the first phase. The company began construction in mid-2017, and connected its first customer to the network on Aug. 30 of this year. The speeds are 10 to 100 times faster than the internet connection many Santa Cruzans have in their homes.
For the businesses and residents in Cruzio’s initial offering area, their proximity to the fiber means they are “future-proofed for the next several decades at least,” since the network can be upgraded to handle 10-gigabit and faster speeds as technology evolves, says James Hackett, Cruzio’s director of business operations and development.
“We’re always looking at what’s coming down the line next,” Hackett says.
Cruzio expects to finish connecting the 300 customers who’ve so far signed up for the gigabit-speed offering during the next few months. The fiber network includes around 20,000 linear feet of underground fiber and encompasses some 1,200 properties. It even includes El Rio Mobile Home Park.
The cost for everyday users is $49.50 a month through Cruzio, which protects the data privacy of its customers, something America’s biggest internet providers do not do. (Some of the country’s biggest internet providers have volunteered to not sell customer data to third parties, but said they’ll still use it for their own advertising networks.)
The project is a proof of concept for the company. From a business standpoint, Cruzio estimates that it needs to connect at least one-third of the people in its covered area to sign up in order to move forward with additional rollouts.
And even though the city sat out a broader collaboration for now, Hackett says it was still a helpful partner in this initial phase, using “dig once” policies to tackle other projects in areas where there was excavation to lay fiber underground. The city is already reaping some of the rewards: Seven city properties are now connected to the fiber network.
Fast, reliable internet speeds are increasingly a need-to-have for business owners, too, as more of their daily operations rely on cloud-based software.
Kathy Daly, office manager and co-owner of the Santa Cruz Optometric Center, says she’s excited for the Cruzio gigabit fiber service because there were regular speed and connectivity issues with her two previous providers. That hurt business when staff couldn’t book appointments or process customers’ payments, Daly says.
“You just don’t realize how much you need it until you don’t have it,” she says.