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San Francisco Looks to Catalog, Map Fiber-Optic Resources

The Department of Technology already maps its fiber-optic wires, so the current push is to make sure the map is comprehensive and includes all city agencies.

(TNS) -- San Francisco might be considered a capital of innovation, but the technology used by its city government is lagging far behind.

The city owns more than 260 miles of high-speed fiber-optic networks that provide Internet connections and link departments. The system, called City Fiber, is housed in tubes and pipes belonging to public agencies and private companies. But there is no clear map marking where the wires are buried and how many miles of conduit house them, a policy analysis report reveals.

“We are certainly the innovation capital of the world, but as it relates to our own government’s technology resources, I would argue that we are lagging far behind,” Supervisor Mark Farrell said. “I think there’s a big difference from the technology and innovation in the private sector to the attention that technology has received within the government.”

Not having an overall map of City Fiber blocks the city from expanding that network, Farrell said, especially as the Internet becomes an increasingly necessary utility. Under legislation introduced by Farrell at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission would be instructed to catalog and map the city’s fiber-optic resources next year.

There is no uniform system because each agency tracks its fiber-optic cables differently and stores information in its own database. Very little digital data is collected, and most agencies use paper records and static engineering diagrams, making it a time-intensive task to compile the information into a single map.

None of the public agencies — the Department of Technology, the PUC and the Municipal Transportation Agency — adhere to best practices, the report by the city’s budget and legislative analyst said.

The San Francisco International Airport monitors a network separate from the city. The PUC’s Wastewater Enterprise also has about 29 miles of fiber-optic cables that are separate.

“Right now, we don’t have a grip on those assets,” Farrell said. “Over the years, we have spent millions of dollars on our broadband infrastructure in San Francisco. We do not have a detailed understanding of where those wires and conduit exist underground. We should have done that years ago.”

The Department of Technology already maps its fiber-optic wires. The push now is to make sure the map is comprehensive and includes all city agencies, said Miguel Gamiño, executive director of the Department of Technology.

“There is a disconnection of information sources and formats,” Gamiño said. “The better we organize it, the better we understand and share the right pieces of that information. If one agency or another has assets in one place, and the opposite agency needs them, it gives us an opportunity to not build two doors next to one another.”

Critics argue that the system should have been implemented years ago and that the city’s technology systems are outdated. There is little data on the condition of the city’s fiber and conduit capacity, path and ownership, the policy analysis report said, meaning the city does not have the resources now to expand.

AT&T, for example, catalogs each fiber-optic construction project in a database, which ensures consistency. It helps keep track of critical infrastructure, said AT&T spokesman Leland Kim.

Figuring out what resources are available is the first step, Gamiño said, especially as the city looks at expanding its network.

“Understanding the fiber and conduits and other connectivity related assets, their current state and any project planned is important to understanding what role they can play,” he said. “Essentially, we’ve got a lot of stuff and we don’t have everything where we want it to be. We have to have a method.”

©2015 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.