How is it that San Francisco, one of America’s major cities, and one located less than an hour from Apple’s headquarters has a connectivity problem?

The city’s “Digital Divide in San Francisco” report claims that 100,000 city residents have no home Internet access, and an additional 50,000 residents are limited to dialup connections. Together, those numbers represent 18 percent of the city’s population without high-speed Internet access. Consequences of the digital divide are well-known, including not getting proper digital skills, which causes a hindrance for the success of future students and workers.

San Francisco has a cultural impact larger than its population suggests. It’s no small town, but with “only” 837,000 residents, it’s only the fourth-largest city in California, after Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose. But no one ever wrote a song called “I Left My Heart in San Diego” and San Francisco’s proximity to the Silicon Valley makes its connection problem all the more surprising.

No Broadband by the Bay?

San Francisco has a fiber network, but it’s limited in scope, with only 140 miles of fiber—not enough to go around. In 2007, a study concluded that connecting every home and business in the city to fiber would cost $560 million over 15 years. While Google hasn’t published the cost to build its networks, one estimate put the price of the fiber network in Kansas City, home to more than half of San Francisco’s population, at only $84 million. The reason for the huge discrepancy in estimates is unclear, though no one familiar with typical Bay Area rent will be surprised.

Searching for an Answer

San Francisco shouldn’t count on Google to come to the rescue. While Google has plans to bring fiber to the South Bay area, near San Jose, San Francisco’s proximity to Google’s own headquarters makes its absence from the list of future Google fiber networks a sort of elephant in the room. Google even has a San Francisco office and funded free Wi-Fi in more than 30 public parks. But, for whatever reason, Google is ignoring the obvious need for a larger fiber network.

The report mentions expanding the existing fiber network, but that will be expensive. At one point, the city Board of Supervisors considered a measure that would have required laying fiber cable any time electrical or sewer maintenance required digging a trench in the road, though there’s no evidence that it’s yet become law. Expanding the city’s current Wi-Fi network may not be a full solution, but could be used to expand access to those who currently lack it.

Unfortunately for those still wearing a flower in their hair, there are currently no plans any more concrete than proposals. Without an answer, though, San Francisco becomes less appealing to high-tech companies seeking to relocate, which would likely move south toward San Jose, and startups. In turn, that failure to attract new business to the city will make paying for fiber expansion all the more difficult.

Leave Your Dialup in San Francisco

The “Digital Divide in San Francisco” report mentions 17 different ISPs offering service to city residents, and to find one that’s faster or cheaper than your current plan, you don’t need to search far at all. Just enter your zip code below and you’ll get started.

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