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The O.C. Gets Lit

Orange County, California, is one of the most densely populated counties in the state, but it had little in the way of broadband alternatives. Cityside Fiber is using private funding to build out an all-fiber network in the southern half of the county, bringing a much-needed option to residences and businesses in the area. 

“We really wanted to go to a place where we can make the biggest impact,” said Rod Hanson, co-founder and CEO of Cityside Fiber. “About 85% of South Orange County currently has no fiber and has only one choice for high-speed internet. We feel like this is where we can make a big impact.”

Hanson and his team looked at competitive network opportunities across the country but kept returning to their home territory since they were familiar with the demographic and regulatory landscape. Cityside Fiber looked at operating as a wholesale open access provider but found problems with the business model and finding qualified ISPs before settling on a retail offering with the ability to lease dark fiber to business customers.

After refining its business plan, obtaining a CPCN license from the state to become a regulated telecommunications carrier, and securing full funding from SDC Capital Partners in February 2023, the company started construction of its fiber network in May. Today, Cityside has its core network turned up and passes an initial 1,200 homes with great expectations for the years to come. 

“We’ve identified in our target market around 250,000 homes passed that are available to us, that’s our long-term plan,” said Hanson. “Over the next five years, we’re looking primarily at South Orange County. We see it as a great market for us. We know the market very, very well and like much of America, there’s very little fiber here.”


Eighty percent of Cityside’s fiber will be underground with the other 20 percent going on aerial as needed. The XGS-PON network will offer residential speeds of 1 Gbps, 2 Gbps, and 5 Gbps delivered using Calix CPE and cloud services, including a managed Wi-Fi offering. A video “partnership” is being developed, but the company would like to direct people to available streaming options in the near-term. 

“We anticipate at some point we’ll be adding additional features,” said Hanson. “Right now, we’re focused on just getting the infrastructure in place and delivering great broadband and a great experience. Our biggest focus point, honestly, is customer experience, because we think anybody can come in and utilize XGS-PON and provide speeds. One of the biggest differentiators that we have is that the customer experience is our key focus.”

Along with its residential offerings, Cityside is targeting small and medium-sized businesses. “We do anticipate at some point we will have an enterprise offering as well,” said Hanson. “And the network is being developed and deployed to support other use cases. There is a layer of dark fiber that we’re deploying that will support [5G] small cells and fiber to the cell We’re very aware of the opportunities that are there and we’re making the investment to make sure that we’re well positioned to do that.” 

Hanson sees more opportunities for private sector investment in urban areas. “Orange County’s not unique,” he said. “The need for fiber is everywhere. If you look across the country, dense suburban markets are in the same boat. It’s great that we have federal dollars going to those areas that are unserved or underserved. But it should be private money going after the areas where there’s a good economic case to be made to go today.”