Business / Economy

Hollister holds open house to discuss internet services

Hollister hosted an open house for businesses to discuss concerns about downtown, as well as internet and wi-fi services.

Hollister held an open house early in the morning Nov. 9 to give business owners and others a chance to talk directly to city staff about their concerns and to hear a presentation from Etheric Networks on the possibility of bringing ultra-high-speed internet to downtown and the community.

The occasion was coordinated by the city’s Development Services Department’s Bryan Swanson, director, and Mary Paxton, program manager. They told those who came that the first hour would be devoted to an open discussion on any topic.

Paxton commented how she had just met Nathan Bryan and invited him to speak to the group about his company, Pinnacles Telephone Company,  which had its beginnings as the family-owned Bryan Telephone Company. He had told her that Pinnacles Telephone Company, of which he is the sole owner, provides internet services in the Paicines area. He said his company could possibly provide service in downtown Hollister, but he had not looked into that yet.

When Paxton asked the group if they had any internet challenges, Juli Vieira, president/CEO of San Benito County Chamber of Commerce, said her challenge was she could “type faster than the service could keep up with” and that she wished she had faster service at her 6th Street office. Gordon Machado said AT&T was not providing him any feedback for his voice or internet service questions.

Vieira brought up the topic of code enforcement’s and businesses’ A-frame or sandwich-board signs. She said code enforcement told some businesses they could not have the signs on the sidewalks, while others were not informed of the prohibition.  

“Those who had to put their signs away are calling me because their next-door neighbors have theirs up,” she said. “Is there any way that we can get code enforcement to do a sweep of downtown because we’ve got neighbors upset with others. It’s causing a riff.”

Swanson said signage “has gone kind of wild downtown,” so Paxton and the code enforcement team is planning a meeting for early next year with the Hollister Downtown Association to work together on how to eliminate the temporary signs that have sprung up around town. He said it is an issue that needs city council direction.

“Before I came here, I think the council took the position that ‘times are tough and we want to have these businesses succeed,’ so I don’t know if they enforced the sign code,” he said.

Vieira wanted to know if the code was being enforced at all. Paxton responded it was alright to have a sign if it was on private property, though she didn’t define what private property is along San Benito Street in downtown. She added, though, the store had to remain ADA accessible if there were a sign.

“Based on the existing code, it’s legal to have an A-frame sign out,” Paxton said. “If you’re in a wheelchair you would be able to enter the business or go down the sidewalk. If they’re in the public right-of-way, it’s not permitted today.”

In discussing internet issues for Hollister, Paul Da Silva, information systems manager for the city, commented that city hall already uses Etheric Networks for one of its connections, using a microwave antenna that receives a signal from a tower on Mount Madonna in Morgan Hill, with up and down speeds of 20 megabytes. He said what the city would like to do is have fiber optic cable in order to increase speeds substantially.

Kollin Kosmicki, the football coach at Anzar High School, who is trying to start up a video production company in the county, said the ultimate success of his company depends on high internet speed. He said the county is nowhere near where it needs to be to support high-tech companies. Da Silva said Etheric Networks is just the first provider the city is attempting to talk to regarding ultra-high speed internet services.

Hollister City Councilman Karson Klauer wondered why, since it is so important to have better internet services downtown for economic development, it is taking so long to do so. Da Silva said it’s because of the cost in bringing fiber optic cables into the city.

“There’s fiber coming in from AT&T and Charter, but these (other) companies that want to come into Hollister have to have a backbone to connect to also,” Da Silva said. “One of their options is a microwave tower, but they also wanted to bring down a fiber connection. One of the other service providers we talked to has fiber into Gilroy, and to get that from Gilroy to here there’s a problem because it costs money to put fiber in the ground. But once that backbone is connected to their main hubs it could be gigabit speeds.”

De Silva said there is fiber already in the ground that the city owns that will give companies an opportunity to take advantage of if it were connected to Gilroy, but cost remains the limiting factor. He said the city is searching for private or public funds to make it happen.

Jim Gillio, city councilman, asked Da Silva what percentage of the city is covered by fiber, and whether AT&T or Charter were available downtown. Da Silva said Charter is and he thinks AT&T might be.

“We used to be on Charter fiber when we had a franchise agreement with them, but when that ended they wanted to start charging for each location we were connected to and that prompted the discussion to put our own fiber in rather than paying an outside company for that connection,” Da Silva said. “We rely on that fiber to connect the airport and police department to city hall. Our internet connection goes over that; all the public safety stuff goes through that.”

Gillio commented that he has Charter at his house and he had issues with speed.

“I called Charter, and they don’t advertise this, I guess, but they said they’d just switch me over to 100 megabytes,” Gillio said. “I asked how much that was going to cost and they said it was the same price. I’m wondering if that’s available anywhere else or just that segment of the city.”

Da Silva doubted Charter was using fiber to provide Gillio a higher speed because it would be more expensive going to residents. He did say, though, that fiber costs appeared to be decreasing, saying that they had gone down by as much as $1,000 compared to what the city had been paying.

“That’s why I went with these guys (Etheric Networks) and we went to a higher speed,” he said. Charter and AT&T do have fiber, but they do not have internet service into downtown.

Klauer asked if Etheric Networks wanted to bring fiber from San Juan Bautista to Hollister would they use a public right-of-way or easement. Da Silva said Etheric Networks has contacts with other utility companies to be able to utilize their poles and even lease some of Charter’s fiber from San Juan to Hollister. He said Hollister’s connection to San Juan’s city hall is on Charter’s internet service.

“We got that connection for CMAP’s video service of the meetings, as well as the fire stations,” he said. “Beyond that we can’t use the fiber without going directly to Charter and working out some sort of agreement.”

As the group waited for the Etheric Networks representatives to show up, Swanson then took the opportunity to switch gears and asked Abraham Prado, associate planner in the Development Services Department, to explain to the group the city’s efforts to move forward with a growth management plan. It was essentially the same presentation he made before the city council on Nov. 6 that the council delayed for a second time until Dec. 11.

Read BenitoLink’s story on City Council delays growth management program.

When the two Etheric Networks representatives, Ken Sadamasa, business development manager, and Lance Kelly, vice president of sales and marketing, appeared, they explained they provide internet services to businesses, city governments and residents throughout the Bay Area, from San Francisco to Monterey. Sadamasa said he understood that most businesses in Hollister suffered from a lack of access to quality internet service and they were there to give a high-level presentation on how Etheric Networks might help them.

Kelly, as one of the original founders, explained the company started in 2003, working out of a garage and grew by servicing residents in underserved areas, and eventually expanded into other business sectors of the Bay Area. They have recently begun serving a number of city governments. He said service is provided through various means, from WISP (wireless internet service provider) to fiber.

“We look forward to opportunities like here in Hollister,” he said. “There are some unique challenges, but we think we can deliver a high-quality service to the businesses here and maybe down the road to residential areas.”

After going through a lengthy presentation of how they might deliver internet services and how much it could potentially cost, Sadamasa said they know there are 100 businesses in Hollister, with approximately 50 located downtown. He said if they could get an idea how many would be interested in their services the company could work with the city to invest the resources needed to move forward.

“Technically, this area where AT&T and Charter and the other big guys are unwilling to come to help you, this is our forte,” Sadamasa said. “We just need to know the addresses of the businesses that want services and then we can build a deployment scenario to get service over here.”

Kelly added, though, to be able to do so would depend on the density, or number of companies served, in order to guarantee an acceptable return on investment.

“We have to decide how long it will take us to get back any investment we make,” Kelly said. “Ten businesses is one thing, but if we have 40 businesses, it’s a different order of magnitude. It helps us design the plan we would use.”

When they were asked if the company would have a service agent located in Hollister, Kelly explained the company would most likely build in a redundancy of services connected to other geographic areas to monitor Hollister so there would be limited downtimes. He admitted that if something catastrophic happened it might take at least three hours to respond.

Sadamasa added, though, that any service agreement would include a guarantee of certain speeds, and if those speeds were not met, customers would not pay the company unless it met the agreed upon speeds and uptimes.

“When your service crashes or there’s crawling speeds and you can’t upload files, you can’t run transactions, I’ll bet you the carrier that you’re doing business with now is not going to say ‘dear business owner we’re going to issue you a credit.’ If I’m not mistaken, you folks are trying to track down customer service to get their attention to get them to help you. It will be different with our company because our service is backed by a service agreement.”

Sadamasa said Etheric Networks’ ultimate goal is to “future proof” its services, so customers won’t be shopping the market for better service in a few years after signing up with the company. When asked who might be able to vouch for their services in town, Kelly said City Hall was their only client at present and suggested Da Silva would be the best source to ask. Da Silva said he was skeptical, at first, about using a wireless link to Mount Madonna, but said the service has “been pretty solid and we haven’t had any real problems.”

One audience member asked if Etheric Networks might provide free Wi-Fi for downtown. Kelly said the company already provides free Wi-Fi in large business complexes and it would be feasible to do the same for Hollister.

“That’s for the bigger discussion with the city,” he said. “If we can get on the light poles we could put out the Wi-Fi. So it’s about where can we put our equipment. We just don’t know that yet. I don’t want to speak for the city, but my feeling is they would be very interested in doing something like that.”

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]