For Richmond residents who sign up for Sonic’s fiber internet, delays and cancellations have become part of a tedious process that often results in residents waiting months before actual installation takes place.
Several residents have reported receiving appointments only to have them postponed multiple times before finally getting a confirmed installation appointment. It took 19 weeks between signing up for fiber and installation at Grandview headquarters.
Sonic, based in Santa Rosa, is Northern California's largest independent internet provider and has long been a favorite of internet users who require faster speeds and more reliable internet connectivity. Many find the benefit of Sonic's fiber is that it offers symmetrical speeds, meaning that the upload and download speeds are the same, a boon for work-from-home employees.
Sonic CEO Dane Jasper said Richmond’s fiber internet rollout has been challenging for the company, with permitting issues that have caused delays.
“The most significant right now is that they currently are requiring a new permit every time we do an aerial drop to a customer’s home, which means added cost and delay for every installation,” Jasper said in an update last summer. “This isn’t required of AT&T or Comcast, nor is it typical in any other city, so it is something we’re negotiating with the city in hopes of resolving.”
Jasper said Sonic has invested in building a huge new modern fiber broadband network that they couldn’t connect customers to. He also said internet providers lack the software and tools to integrate a manual permitting submission step into the routine work of same- and next-day drops from poles to homes, which is likely to cause delays.
“Our two competitors are continuing business as usual. It’s also not something we have ever seen in any other city,” Jasper said. “I can’t see how our competitors or Sonic could adapt to a permitting requirement for the routine network drops like this.”
Deputy Public Works Director Robert Armijo said Richmond requires all internet service providers, including AT&T and Comcast, to obtain permits for any work that involves setting up traffic control or conducting activities within the city’s right of way. Armijo acknowledged some large organizations start work without securing the necessary permits.
“This policy is in place to ensure public safety and the orderly management of our streets and public spaces,” Armijo wrote. “Our staff actively enforces permit requirements. When such instances are identified, we take prompt action to ensure compliance.”
Armijo said permit policies can vary from city to city, with some not requiring permits for certain types of connections or having different processes for managing utility work in public areas.
“In Richmond, our policy to require permits for such work is driven by our specific local needs, infrastructure considerations, and the overarching goal of ensuring the safety and well-being of our residents,” Armijo said.
Last summer, Richmond Mayor Eduardo Martinez reported that residents were missing work and experiencing other disruptions in their daily lives due to problems with Sonic internet installations. Martinez said the public works department will provide ongoing assistance to the company and has presented several alternatives for moving this process forward.
“It’s fantastic that Sonic has come to Richmond— they’re a top-notch internet provider— but they are being held to the standard as written in our city’s municipal code, and it’s important to the safety of our residents that corporations abide by the laws of our city,” Martinez said this week.
North and East resident Brian Lewis was told his appointment to switch service from AT&T to Sonic was canceled due to an issue with licensing through the City of Richmond and would not be resolved until February.
“I was re-scheduled for February 23, but told that if the issue wasn’t resolved by then, they would further postpone my installation,” Lewis said.
After signing up for fiber internet but before an installation appointment, residents can expect a Sonic technician to attach a new fiber “drop” to the exterior of their home. Once the drop is complete, Sonic will email and text to schedule the internet service installation.
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