The lunch crowd at Coffee Bar, a stylish cafe in San Francisco's Mission District, dines with laptops open. It's a reminder that the city is a tech mecca.
To judge by the city's broadband options, San Francisco looks more like a backwater. The national average broadband download speed in the U.S. at the time this article was filed is 10.02 Mbps, according to Ookla's Net Index. The average broadband download speed in the city is 8.46 Mbps, unless you happen to live in certain subsidized housing projects.
At Valencia Gardens, for example, low-income residents typically enjoy connections of around 50 Mbps at no cost, thanks to a city-funded fiber connection.
But Internet connectivity for other San Francisco residents is improving, thanks to changing wireless technology and entrepreneurs who believe they can provide better Internet service than the likes of AT&T and Comcast. (The city is also hoping to accelerate broadband for residents with a federal stimulus funding request. Funding awards are scheduled to be announced on September 30.)
I'd come to Coffee Bar to meet Alex Menendez and Rudy Rucker, co-founders of MonkeyBrains.net, a wireless ISP, Web hosting and server co-location company, and Anders Finn, their sole employee. ("If you set things up properly, you don't need a huge workforce," Rudy explained.)
For years, I'd been paying a little over $40 per month for 6 Mbps down/768 Kbps up DSL from Cyberonic, a small ISP that resold Covad bandwidth. In reality, I seldom saw speeds above 5.0 Mbps.
The average monthly bill in the U.S. for broadband service in April 2009 was $39, according to a June 2009 Pew Internet survey.
When my Internet connection proved too slow for OnLive, a cloud-based gaming service, I began looking in earnest to see whether it would be possible to get something faster without breaking the bank. I also wasn't eager to sign up with AT&T or Comcast, the dominant telecom companies in the area.
Through Yelp.com, I discovered two ISPs in San Francisco that were getting rave reviews, WebPass and MonkeyBrains. I e-mailed WebPass and the founder promptly e-mailed back to say that his company doesn't do residential installations. WebPass focuses on large residential buildings and businesses.