Broadband network
The new broadband line will run throughout Santa Cruz County — specifically through Santa Cruz’s Westside. Photo courtesy of James Hackett/Cruzio Internet.

Your streaming experience on Netflix and HBO Go may be kicked up a notch by new fiber networks running through Santa Cruz. A new fiber optic line that could lead to increased Internet speeds is undergoing the final stages of planning.

Several stakeholders, including UC Santa Cruz, Cruzio Internet, the City of Santa Cruz, Central Coast Broadband Consortium and others collaborated to install the new broadband network that will stretch 91 miles through the Central Coast region.

The network is designed to improve connections in areas that have poor Internet speeds in Monterey County. In doing so, it will also provide faster Internet speeds through Santa Cruz County, the Westside of Santa Cruz and down to Salinas. The line is estimated to be completed by 2015, although no timeline is currently set.

“This will benefit Santa Cruz directly because it will provide multiple routes of fiber cables for us to access,” said UCSC network engineer Jim Warner. “Having separate paths gives us a more reliable service.”

The network is being built by Sunesys, a private developer of broadband services and fiber optic networks that currently provides telecommunication services in several different states.

On April 10, the California Public Utilities Commission granted Sunesys $10.6 million to fund the new broadband network, about 80 percent of the $13.3 million total cost. Sunesys will fund the remainder of the costs as well as build, maintain and own the line indefinitely as other companies will rent and build off of it.

Once complete, other entities will lease space of the network to build fiber connections that will connect homes and businesses to much faster Internet. The line is classified as a “backbone” connection, meaning it will act as the foundation for quicker speeds in the future.

Warner hopes the new network will help lower prices and raise speeds for the city as well as the university. He said the expansion will allow smaller companies like Cruzio to improve their services, which will help them compete with larger corporations like Comcast.

“People in metropolitan areas with more services, like San Jose, pay less while people in less populated areas pay more,” Warner said. “The more competition lowers the price, which is good for everyone.”

Cruzio Internet has been pushing for an expanded broadband network for years and is now seeing it succeed. Cruzio’s business development manager James Hackett said the broadband line is the first step in expanding connectivity in Santa Cruz, especially since connections are currently lacking. However this new development won’t lead to change in Cruzio’s current market.

“We definitely want to expand our service offerings,” Hackett said. “But not beyond Santa Cruz County, we have no intention of going beyond our local area.”

The line is planned to be primarily aerial, similar to telephone lines hanging from pole to pole. Although some of the fiber may go underground for the longevity and safety of the cable, it requires a large amount of construction and environmental work, which can be costly.

The newly funded broadband line is currently in contract negotiations between Monterey County and Sunesys so they can move forward with collecting permits for construction along with getting approval from environmental agencies. The approval is needed for Sunesys to dig into areas where the line will be underground.

The  new  Internet expansion is part of a greater Santa Cruz initiative to increase connectivity throughout the city. Santa Cruz economic development manager J. Guevara said this fiber infrastructure is necessary for a local economic boom.

“This is one part of a bigger strategy to give Santa Cruz a better Internet infrastructure,” Guevara said. “It’s like water. Without broadband Internet many businesses can’t grow and thrive.”