Unless, that is, you live in Sebastopol or the Sunset District in San Francisco, where Sonic, an unlikely independent in an industry full of giants, has carved out its own niche by delivering its Gigabit Fiber service selectively to areas with high customer density. As Mill Valley resident Tara Sharp, Sonic’s marketing director and a member of the North Bay Business Journal’s 10th annual Forty Under 40 list, says of Sonic CEO and founder Dane Jasper, “His mission is to bring Gigabit Fiber Internet to everyone.” Sonic’s Gigabit Fiber customers pay less than $60 a month for the service.
That strategy has made Sonic an “unlikely survivor” that “one might have expected to go extinct like most of its brethren after the Federal Communications Commission largely deregulated the DSL business,” according to an ArsTechnica story on the company.
Dan Gillmor, the former longtime tech columnist for the San Jose Mercury News and a professor at at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, agrees. “It’s an independent in an industry dominated by a cable-phone cartel notorious for greed, customer disservice, and control-freakery,” Gillmor wrote of Sonic in a Slate column titled “This Might Be the Best Internet Service Provider in the U.S.” in 2015. “Sonic is innovative and aggressive in good ways, expanding its footprint by providing excellent service at a fair price.”
And while Consumer Reports’ 2016 survey of telecom service ratings showed broad dissatisfaction among customers with cable TV and internet plans, Sonic “received top scores for value and reliability.”
Sonic, which Jasper founded in his mother’s back room 22 years ago, is the largest independent ISP in California and has been for several years. That achievement comes despite a marketing approach that almost entirely subsisted on word-of-mouth until Sharp came on board less than three years ago. And although usage has “skyrocketed” since then, Sonic has been quite deliberate in its Gigabit Fiber promotion.
Of Sonic’s its Gigabit rollout in the Sunset District, Sharp told Hoodline that in an effort to stay under the radar of their much larger competitors, the company had “been building our network quietly in the western neighborhoods of San Francisco for some time now, often using unmarked trucks. We wanted to have the core network ready to go, so that when we started hooking up our customers’ homes we could move as quickly as possible from block to block.”
Sonic officials say that the company bases its decision on where to deploy Gigabit Fiber service on a variety of factors, including customer density, housing density, local regulations and logistical considerations around deployment and infrastructure.
“Marin is a hotbed for us,” says Sonic’s Nicole Weeber.
While it remains to be seen if Gigabit Fiber becomes an option for Mill Valley residents, Sonic has an array of not-as-fast-but-still-fast services, including a trio of Fusion DSL services that garner speeds of up to 100mbps.
And while speed is often king for Internet service providers, Sonic has also prioritized its users’ privacy, consistently getting a perfect score from the Electronic Frontier Foundation for protecting users’ privacy. And the company fought back when the government subpoenaed a user’s information during its ongoing investigation of WikiLeaks—“so he would have an opportunity to fight it,” says Jasper, according to Gillmor.
As expected for an independent in a world of giants, Sonic doesn’t own and control all of the infrastructure it uses, often leasing the copper lines of companies like AT&T.
Sharp says the company is laser-focused on delivering great service to more communities.
Keep your fingers crossed, Mill Valley.