Union Democrat staff


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


Johnson said the Comcast line will be one of the largest private

investment in Sonora this year and has the potential to help the


"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


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.

Contact Ryan Campbell at rcampbell@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4526.