By RYAN CAMPBELL
The Union Democrat
Things are about to get a lot faster in the Sierra foothills.
Comcast is planning to build 390 miles of state-of-the-art fiber optic lines that will run through the heart of the Mother Lode. Construction on the vast network of cables is expected to begin in mid-May, according to Andrew Johnson, Northern California regional vice president for Comcast.
“This will be building some huge on-ramps to the information superhighway,” he said.
Sonora’s current Internet service is based on a system that was installed more than 20 years ago and can only support about 6 megabytes of data per second, according to Comcast Business Account Executive Michael Reams. The new lines will be as much as 18 times faster.
For example, a high definition movie that would take more than an hour to download via the current system will take roughly eight minutes using fiber optics.
“This is the Ferrari of high-speed Internet,” he said.
The vast river of information will flow along 125 frail, glass-like fibers bound together in a large cable called a node. The nodes will be routed down major thoroughfares and conventional cables will carry data from the nodes to high definition flat panels and laptops throughout Sonora and “adjacent county pockets,” Johnson said.
He wouldn’t give a firm timeline for when the network would be finished, but said it will likely be up and running before the end of the year.
Comcast is looking to compete with satellite television providers and AT&T phone service in the Sonora area in order to expand the 2.2 million customers it has in Northern California, Johnson said.
Improvements are also expected to take place in Calaveras County.
On-demand movies and TV shows are one of the largest growing segments of Comcast’s cable business, according to Johnson. Forty million programs are downloaded a month in California alone and 16.7 million customers have opted for the high megabytes per second Internet service.
Johnson said the Comcast line will be one of the largest private investment in Sonora this year and has the potential to help the economy.
“We think it’s going to open up room for innovation,” he said.
The connection between economic recovery and high-speed Internet has not gone unnoticed. President Barack Obama has set aside $7.2 billion in federal stimulus funds to bring broadband access to rural areas.
The full Comcast package, called Xfinity Triple Play, includes TV, Internet and phone service and costs roughly $114 a month. High-speed Internet alone will cost $60 a month while long-distance phone service will cost $35 to $40 a month, according to Johnson.
Cable TV rates will vary from $21 for a basic plan to $70 for premium.