As District 6 City Council candidate Jack Ucciferri went door-to-door to campaign, he found that many Santa Barbara residents had one thing in common: a mutual disdain for the Cox Communications internet monopoly.
“Every person I talk to agrees with me,” Ucciferri said. The Atlanta-based telecommunications company provides a majority of Santa Barbara County with internet and cable, meaning that when there’s an outage, many residents and retailers are affected. Cox’s service has been the subject of several complaints as Santa Barbara attracts more tech companies.
But where local leaders have only paid lip service to regulating Cox, said Ucciferri, he wants to see internet service improve.
One of the other contenders for District 6, current councilmember Gregg Hart, stated, “I am concerned about the ability of residents and businesses to count on reliable Internet service and have talked with Cox and other providers about how to ensure all of our residents have access to reliable Internet options.”
Ucciferri is dreaming of a fiber-optic plan for Santa Barbara. Down south, the cities of Santa Monica and Oxnard already have or are preparing plans for fiber-optic cable networks.
“If you don’t have fiber-optic cable, you are a second-tier economy for tech,” Ucciferri said.
Kevin Barron, the director of information systems at UCSB’s Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, and Doc Searls, a fellow at UCSB’s Center for Information Technology and Society, backed up Ucciferri.
“The main case is that people can’t do their business,” Barron said, citing the high volume of self-employed residents in the city who require high-speed internet to work.
Part of the necessary change, both said, is for the city to treat internet as a resource. According to them, the technology is simple to upgrade, and if the city were to convert to fiber optics, internet in the area would increase to gigabit speed. Residents could see much faster upload and download times.
Fiber optics are readily possible in the City of Santa Barbara, which Searls says is home to a large “backbone,” or a high-speed data transmission line between large data networks. The timeline of any potential change, though, is up in the air. Barron said local government and internet vendors would take the longest to get on board.
“All we need to do is connect the dots,” Searls said.
Editor’s Note: This story was changed to add a comment from candidate Gregg Hart.