Morro Bay Gets Wired

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

March 28, 2024

One of Astound’s bucket trucks is framed by a double rainbow on a rainy day in Morro Bay. Submitted photo

Residents and businesses in Morro Bay now have access to something only one other town in San Luis Obispo County has — high-speed fiber optic Internet connections.

San Luis Obispo based-Astound Business Solutions — powered by Digital West — is near completion of a multi-year project to wire Morro Bay with fiber optic cable, stringing the wires along utility poles and underground in the parts of town where wires were long ago buried.

Los Osos resident Jeff Buckingham, a local leader in the communications field here in a 1990s partnership between Call America and Cal Poly, has led the project for Astound. Now, they have fiber optics strung to some 85 percent of homes and 70% of businesses, with just a few specific areas left. 

Morro Bay is the second SLO County town to get what Buckingham said was an amazingly fast and reliable network.

“We started in Grover Beach,” He told Estero Bay News, “then Morro Bay.”

He noted that Astound has made this investment. “There’s no government money involved,” Buckingham said, “No grants or taxpayer money. All we asked for [from the City] was to be kind with the permitting.”

He explained that the City had long ago arranged for fiber optic Internet with another company in a deal that included connecting the City’s various departments. But the company couldn’t get financing to do the rest of the city and Buckingham said he was approached by former City Manager, Scott Collins, about continuing fiber optics throughout town. 

“I liked the size [of Morro Bay] and the infrastructure,” he said. Most of the town still has utility poles lining the streets. “Using telephone poles is faster, and it’s more economical to build the network on poles.” With undergrounded utilities, “it’s a much more difficult undertaking.”

Nevertheless, they used trenching and under-directional drilling to run the fiber optics Downtown and along the Embarcadero. They still have to go into Cloisters, which he said they are still working out how best to do that underground work.

What they have now is some 38-miles of fiber optic cables strung and ready for orders to make the final connection to homes and businesses. Fiber optics arrive much the way cable TV arrives, hard-wired as opposed to wireless.

The main differences are in speed. For residences, Buckingham said, the speed is 2 gigabytes “up and down,” meaning it downloads as fast as it uploads, a key difference for business people.

For most services, you might get 50 megabytes on download, Buckingham explained, and uploading is much smaller. “You might be at 10 megabytes on upload. That’s OK for most residences but artists, engineers, architects, medical professionals all need to send big files. With fiber optics, ‘up and down’ are super fast.”

Doesn’t the cable company have fiber optics too? “Cable companies have some fiber in their networks,” he said. Mostly, that’s between towns. “There’s a big difference with the plant we’ve built. You’ll have a strand of glass going to every single house and business.”

With data being carried essentially on light waves, “You have fewer things to break,” Buckingham said. You also don’t need as much electricity to run fiber optics and if there’s a power outage, something Morro Bay residents are pretty familiar with, you can still use it. 

Astound’s construction manager for the Morro Bay project, Justin Hunt, takes a selfie from atop a utility pole while stringing fiber optic cable in Morro Bay. Submitted photo

“If our customers have battery back-up on a device,” he said, “you can continue to have Internet.”

And the bandwidth available means multiple devices — phones, gaming consoles, TV streaming — can all run at the same time, and each be equally as fast. Gaming with fiber optics “now allows people to play at a much higher level than before.”

He said wireless companies “are some of our best customers,” because a wireless signal at some point has to be carried by a wire.

When one subscribes to Astound’s service, a technician will come out and run the fiber optic wire down to the home and inside the house and “feed Internet to devices. People can run all the appliances in a house that run Internet.” That would include smart devices — from a Siri to new-fangled refrigerators. 

“Everyone can use all devices at the same time,” he said. It will also help the growing number of people who work from home, a practice that exploded during the coronavirus pandemic and continues to grow in the workforce. 

The fiber optic lines also have room for future upgrades, which Buckingham said is happening a lot. Back when he started in the business, 9600 kilobytes “was lightening fast. Now it’s 2 gigs. It’s just unbelievable. 

“Fiber optic technology has infinite capacity to grow in the future.”

High speed Internet has become a goal of the Biden Administration, which has been calling for bringing Internet access to the rural areas of the country, much the way the Federal Government electrified the nation. 

“After World War II, the government subsidized the rural electrification program,” Buckingham said. “Now there are grants monies to address small pockets of people. It’s part of the effort to bring fiber optics to every part of the country. For Morro Bay, we’re a little ahead of the curve.”

They wired up Grover Beach first, then Morro Bay, and Buckingham said they are also in Old Town Paso Robles — west of the Salinas River — and are looking at other communities on the Central Coast. “All we’ve done so far,” he said, “has been Astound’s investment, there’ve been no outside investments.”

Residents have been seeing the company’s work trucks in town for a couple of years now but somewhat ironically, if you want to find out more, you don’t have to use the Internet to do it.

With the network largely complete, it’s time to sign up customers. Their marketing strategy is to use the old fashioned kind of social media — word of mouth.

“We’re in the rollout stage now,” Buckingham said. “We’re not doing a lot of media or mass marketing. We want to go door-to-door.”

They have a sales specialist based in Grover, Juan Carlos Herrera, who is the contact person in Morro Bay. Call 805-393-1367 and Herrera will set up an appointment to come to you. Then you might invite family, neighbors or other friends in town over and have a group informational meeting. 

“One neighbor signs up,” Buckingham said about their marketing strategy, “and they tell their friends next door and across the street about it.”

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