The COVID-19 pandemic showed that remote working, learning, telemedicine, and e-commerce — not to mention simply staying in touch with family and friends — requires a robust internet infrastructure for when close physical contact is not possible.
Government agencies, internet providers and others are working diligently to expand the fiber optic networks necessary for the world’s internet, cable television, and telephone systems. The process can seem as tangled as a discarded charging cord. But a report by the San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG) could help to untangle the process and guide local leaders making the decisions needed to expand necessary fiber optic networks.
The Fiber Readiness Study outlines best practices for county and city governments in San Joaquin County and the governments’ role in that expansion, provides an assessment of high-impact fiber in the county, and describes potential funding sources for expansion. The study resulted from SJCOG’s Transportation Innovation Planning Study.
“Expanding the fiber optic cable network in San Joaquin County could make a significant difference in the safety of our streets and highways and reduce congestion by allowing us to better time traffic signals and improve traffic monitoring,” said Travis Yokoyama, the SJCOG senior regional planner who oversaw the study. “Fiber optic cable is also key in being able to implement futuristic pilot projects, such as deploying driverless vehicles in downtown areas.”
There are other real-life benefits to fiber optic cable.
“It could also mean people living here would have greater access to the internet for education, employment, doctors’ appointments and other opportunities,” Yokoyama said. “It could greatly increase equity when it comes to providing access to the internet for more San Joaquin County residents who don’t have it now or have slow internet service that limits what they can do online.”
Accessing the internet via high-speed fiber optic is by far the fastest way to surf the ’net, download files, attend Zoom meetings or share cat memes, at least until internet service providers increase their 5G networks throughout the county.
Cities in San Joaquin County are already getting ready for fiber optic cable expansion. Some are developing strategic plans, policies and procedures for future fiber optic cable expansion. Others are following a “Dig Once” policy that requires developers to install conduits in trenches with other utilities to fill later with fiber optic cables to avoid digging up streets and other infrastructure several times. Some are already using fiber optic to connect signal lights. For the future, cities are looking at fiber optic as essential for providing government services, public safety and business development, connecting to underserved communities, and in Stockton delivering Smart City initiatives such as air quality sensors and parking monitoring.
SJCOG’s Fiber Readiness study, funded by a Caltrans Sustainable Transportation Planning Grant, also flags opportunities to expand the county’s fiber optic network after assessing the existing fiber network and using a methodology that addresses congestion, existing state plans for fiber, and links to community anchor institutions. The study also recommended a path to possibly expanding the middle-mile fiber optic network, or the fiber connection between a regional or national network and the local last-mile providers that connect to end-users.
SJCOG assembled a working group to help oversee the study and it identified three goals:
- Implement existing traffic management plans to facilitate intelligent transportation systems to improve safety and mobility for all modes of transportation.
- Plan for fiber optic and transportation networks, while keeping emerging technologies and intelligent transportation systems in mind.
- Lay the foundation for fiber expansion throughout the county to enhance access and connectivity and improve digital literacy.
The study found that while fiber networks can be formed by private, public, local agencies, or governments, jurisdiction-owned fiber networks can support management of advanced transportation systems, government services such as school networks, emergency services, and public utility monitoring and management. Most common approach for fiber management in San Joaquin County is for a city to lease services to an internet service provider or partner with an internet service provider.
It also found that the state’s 2019 Strategic Broadband Corridors Report provides a strong starting point to build a countywide fiber network, but it does not meet all of the county’s needs. SJCOG is finetuning their assessment and identifying a new segment that may better fit the needs in San Joaquin County.
Jack Tone Road and State Route 26 are strategic routes to help bring fiber optics closer to rural communities in eastern San Joaquin County, the study found. Building a countywide fiber network could begin with two central “fiber rings” using the state’s Strategic Broadband Corridors and key county corridors. A central fiber ring could be enclosed by State Routes 12, 99 and 120, and Interstate 5. An eastern fiber ring could be enclosed by State Routes 12 to the north, SR 99 to the south and west, and Jack Tone Road to the east.
Next, SJCOG will help form a Fiber Task Force of local “fiber champions” that will oversee new development plans, opportunities to coordinate policies or construction efforts, funding opportunities, and other tasks.
Municipalities will have to select an approach to expanding their fiber network depending on the unique needs, community goals, existing infrastructure, the ability to carry out the expansion, and investment.
Then once a jurisdiction selects a best fit approach to expanding the fiber network, it can seek state or federal funding or use its general fund for installing fiber cable. The Fiber Task Force will likely prioritize high-impact gaps for fiber expansion.