Google picks Santa Rosa's Sonic for high-profile project
Ultra-fast broadband will be installed in homes on Stanford campus
Published: Monday, December 13, 2010 at 4:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 7:45 a.m.
Chalk one up for the little guy.
Google has selected local Internet provider Sonic.net as a partner for its high-profile project to deliver ultra-fast broadband services to a select few homes in the South Bay.
Sonic.net will provide customer service and perform on-site installations for the fiber optic broadband network that Google is building for residential homes at Stanford University.
The partnership is the latest triumph for the Santa Rosa-based company, which has made the nearly unparalleled transformation from a small dial-up Internet provider into a telecommunication company capable of developing its own broadband DSL services.
"We're thrilled," said Dane Jasper, co-founder and chief executive of Sonic.net. "They are a really bright and dynamic group of folks at Google who are doing some exciting things."
In February, Google surprised the tech world by announcing it planned to build a residential network capable of delivering Internet speeds of 1 gigabit per second -- more than 100 times faster than the average U.S. connection. Google's plan is to build a fiber-to-the-home network for as many as 500,000 people in at least one U.S. city.
The Stanford network is a pilot project for that larger effort, and will provide fiber access to about 850 faculty and staff-owned homes on campus.
Currently, no residential customer has use for that level of speed, according to industry analysts. But Google said deploying the technology would spur innovation as developers designed new products and services to utilize the blazing-fast access.
City officials around the country, including in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, responded to Google's February announcement by lobbying the Internet giant to build the large-scale network in their communities. Google is expected to announce the winning city in the coming days.
Sonic.net is a relatively small broadband provider with about 30,600 residential, business and wholesale customers. Yet it has built a national reputation for providing exceptional customer service, said Lee Ratliff, a Dallas-based analyst with iSuppli, a market research firm.
"Sonic.net is unlike any other telecom or ISP as far I can tell," Ratliff said. "First and foremost is their concern for customer service."
The terms of the Google partnership were not disclosed, and both companies declined to comment on whether it might evolve into a larger role for Sonic.net.
"We're excited to be working with Sonic.net," said James Kelly, project manager for Google Fiber for Communities.
"Google's beta deployment to Stanford will play a key role in bringing ultra high-speed Internet to much larger communities."
Sonic.net landed the deal to provide network management for the Stanford project after Jasper reached out to the Internet giant earlier this year and connected with Kelly.
"We have been working on our own fiber optic projects in the North Bay," Jasper said. "So we reached out to Google to compare notes, and that is where this partnership flows from."
Sonic.net announced in March its own plans to build a fiber-to-the-home network in Sebastopol.
The Santa Rosa company hopes to begin deploying fiber to about 50 Sebastopol homes in February, and then will continue to expand the network to cover a total of about 750 homes in the area by the end of 2011.
The Sebastopol project will put Sonic.net on the forefront of the costly and still evolving field of fiber-to-the home networks.
By working with Google, Sonic.net gets a first-hand look at the lessons learned by a company with both the cash and corporate culture to experiment and develop better fiber technologies and more cost-effective methods for deploying fiber to the home.
Fiber optic lines are essentially long spindles of glass that transmit information using pulses of light. The technology is capable of carrying huge amounts of digital information -- and for longer distances -- than other technologies such as cable and phone lines.
Fiber has long been used to deliver large amounts of digital data between cities, but only in recent years have U.S. companies begun pushing it deeper into neighborhoods.
Few companies have gone so far as to run fiber all the way into America's homes, although it is increasingly common in Europe and Asia.
Sonic.net, which was founded in 1994 from a project at Santa Rosa Junior College, recently hired its 100th employee -- after adding nearly 30 percent more staff during the past two years. The company's revenues in 2009 were $21 million -- up about 23 percent from the year before.
The Google announcement comes at a time Sonic.net is hoping to ratchet up marketing for its new DSL service.
"There is the potential for massive amounts of growth for us," Jasper said.
You can reach Staff Writer Nathan Halverson at 703-1577 or nathan.halverson
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