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Los Altos prepares for first cable upgrade in 20 years

Los Altos' archaic cable lines are finally getting a modern boost. City cable provider Comcast launched an aggressive capital campaign last month that will replace 157 miles of copper lines in the city with modern fiber-optic cable capable of transmitting more data at faster speeds.

"The cable system has been in the ground for more than two decades and is extremely outdated," said Andrew Johnson, vice president of communications for Comcast.

The biggest problem is the narrow bandwidth. It can't transfer as much information as newer cable lines, he added.

The system's shortfalls are something Los Altos users have come to know all too well. The city has been working to upgrade its cable lines since 1999.

"Our system is really, really, really bad. It's archaic. We have copper wire from 15 years ago," said Los Altos resident Cheryl Kershner when the city first began talking about upgrades. "Things that are now (outdated), Los Altos doesn't even offer yet."

The new width should triple the number of television channels that customers receive, provide high-speed Internet access and improve local and long-distance phone service in the future, Johnson said.

The upgrade campaign is part of the commitment that Comcast made to invest more than $400 million in capital improvements for the Bay Area when it took over AT&T's contract, he said.

The company has already put fiber-optic cable in place for more than 700,000 new homes in the Bay Area, he added.

The upgrades come just weeks following the city's first face-to-face negotiations with Comcast for a new franchise agreement since the company took over the city's former cable provider, AT&T, last December. Both parties are in extended, closed-door negotiations.

A new franchise agreement could bring more service choices, better video quality and more city services -- online council meetings, online building permits and an upgraded 911 emergency dispatch system. The city could also collect higher tax revenues from Comcast.

"The upgrades and negotiations are separate and distinct," Johnson said. One has nothing to do with the other.

If Comcast picks up the contract negotiations where AT&T left off, the city should be nearing the end of the process, City Manager Phil Rose said.

The city is waiting for Comcast officials to review the proposed contract and return to the table within three weeks, Rose said.

"We still remain optimistic that we will come to an agreement with Los Altos," Johnson said.

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