Sonic’s FTTH expansion continues, but California pole access remains a challenge

poles
Sonic is talking to pole owners about how it can find ways to more effectively work with them on getting more timely access to facilities.

Sonic is working to extend its network into more parts of California, but the competitive provider is not immune to the challenges of getting access to utility poles to string fiber to deliver its disruptive $40 1 Gbps service to residential and business customers to challenge incumbents AT&T and Comcast.

Just this week, the service provider announced an East Bay expansion to include key areas across Berkeley and Albany, along with parts of El Cerrito, Kensington and Oakland.

Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic, told FierceTelecom that since it has focused its network builds on using aerial utility poles, there are sections of its service area where the infrastructure can’t immediately accommodate additional providers.

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“There are streets and areas where we’re not deploying because poles are overloaded,” Jasper said. “The deployment is not without its challenges for everyone, but I would say those challenges are the same for everybody.”

Network hole realities

While Sonic is committed to working with pole owners to resolve the reinforcement issue, in the near-term the service provider simply is not extending service where poles are overloaded today.

Given the service provider’s focus on using aerial plant and building a profitable business, the company says this method aligns with its strategy.

“If there’s an area where there’s a pole that needs reinforcement or replacement, we won’t build there and that results in what will be uneven coverage,” Jasper said. “Areas where consumers have underground utilities, we also don’t build.

Jasper added that the utility pole access issue is a common reality.

“We’re pragmatic about where we build,” Jasper said. “We build where it’s feasible to do so and omit the areas where we simply can’t.”

While Sonic is willing to help the utility find a way to resolve the pole issues, it’s not always clear when the owners will make reinforcing the facilities a priority. Sonic is talking to pole owners about how it can find ways to more effectively work with them on getting more timely access to existing facilities.

“We’re working with pole owners to streamline the pole reinforcement process,” Jasper said. “We’re hopeful that that will increase the ease of deployment.”

However, Jasper added that “there’s not a process to remedy the pole reinforcement issue today.”

The question then becomes what if the utilities eventually get the poles reinforced somewhere down the line? Sonic said that it is unlikely it would add more fiber to the network in the areas where it could not get initial access.

“You need to do this all at once up front,” Jasper said. “If a pole is overloaded today, we delete that segment from the network and it’s unlikely we’ll go back in and build.”

Gig competition mounts

As it looks to compete more effectively with incumbent telco AT&T and Comcast, the service provider is expanding its Gigabit Fiber internet service to the East Bay to include key areas across Berkeley and Albany, along with parts of El Cerrito, Kensington and Oakland.

With Comcast and AT&T expanding their 1 Gbps footprint, the good news for consumers is there could be various options for higher speed broadband in these areas.

“Our competition is mainly Comcast and AT&T,” Jasper said. “All of the territories we work in there will be an incumbent telco and incumbent cable operator and generally we’re the third or fourth provider in a market.”

Now that it has completed this network rollout, Sonic will offer unlimited, uncapped gigabit fiber internet plus free international home phone service starting at $40 per month. Residents and businesses in these neighborhoods will have access to Gigabit, internet connectivity.

“We check all the boxes and our customers are happy with what they are getting,” Jasper said.

Sonic says this latest build marks the company’s largest fiber expansion to date. Residents can check service availability and order service at Sonic.com.

Earlier this year, Sonic expanded its San Francisco service to the southern portion of The Mission and the surrounding communities of Noe Valley, The Castro, Dolores Heights, Glen Park, Potrero Hill and Sunnyside, doubling down on its fiber offerings.

Jasper said that the latest network expansion follows a similar playbook it took in San Francisco.

“It’s not much different than what we did in San Francisco,” Jasper said. “Like San Francisco, it’s aerial and there’s no coverage to homes via underground served locations.”