LAHCF Champions

The above graphic displays the process for LAHCF “champions,” residents working to expand community fiber-optic membership in their neighborhoods.

After more than two years of dogged pursuit, the leaders of a grassroots effort to deliver high-speed internet to underserved parts of Los Altos Hills have secured the official support they need to expand.

Hills city council members voted unanimously Aug. 31 to approve a master access agreement with Los Altos Hills Community Fiber (LAHCF) Association that allows the resident-run, mutual benefit corporation to install fiber-optic cables within public rights-of-way.

“Congratulations to all the people who worked really hard on this and our apologies that it has taken so much time, but thank you for bearing with us,” Mayor Kavita Tankha said during the special council meeting. “We’re all hopeful that this will really succeed and it will bring a stable and high-speed internet to all the residents who have suffered for so long.”

Traditional internet providers such as Comcast and AT&T are reluctant to expand broadband services in town due to hilly terrain, low population density and the remote nature of some homes, all of which make the requisite infrastructure expensive. Residents have long complained of exorbitant connection quotes, some rising into the six-figure range.

Frustrated, Fremont Pines Lane resident Scott Vanderlip galvanized his neighbors to invest in their own fiber cable equipment, which a Sunnyvale internet provider installed and now manages. LAHCF launched by connecting four homes in April 2019. Now more than 25 are fully wired, and Vanderlip and company expect 300 additional subscribers by the third quarter of 2022.

The network is capable of 10-gigabit upload and download speeds, and most new subscribers can expect to pay between $5,000 and $10,000, with the cost decreasing as the number of participants increases, according to a meeting presentation.

LAHCF’s non-exclusive agreement with the town is for an initial 10-year term, and it allows either party to terminate with 90 days prior notice. All proposed infrastructure development on public property requires a city engineer’s review before an encroachment permit is granted.

Beyond the agreement, council members vowed to safeguard the town’s interests by appointing Tankha as an LAHCF liaison and to retain Joint Venture Silicon Valley’s Community Broadband Initiative as an intermediary that will help steer the association’s expansion.

LAHCF is temporarily relying on residential radio antennas to connect subscriber islands, which some residents expressed concern about last week. City Manager Carl Cahill responded to their comments by saying he will consult the town’s Planning Commission to determine whether new regulations about radio antenna permitting are necessary.

While a number of LAHCF “champions,” residents working to grow membership in their neighborhoods, chimed in with words of support during the meeting, one especially influential individual expressed her opinion in print.

A June 30 letter U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-18th District) sent to the council and Cahill was included in the meeting packet.

“The fact that individuals came together to solve their community’s digital divide issues is admirable,” Eshoo wrote. “I believe such solutions should be celebrated and enabled, and I’m pleased to see one succeeding in Los Altos Hills. I appreciate that the Town is working with the Association, and if I can be helpful in any way, just let me know.”

For more information on Los Altos Hills Community Fiber Association, visit lahcommunityfiber.org.