Improving California’s High Speed Infrastructure: Bullet Trains or Gigabits

The state’s leadership today approved the most expensive infrastructure project ever undertaken in California, a high-speed rail project that will connect San Francisco and Sacramento with Los Angeles. The cost: $68,000,000,000.

Generally speaking, rail in the US is useless for public transportation, so I’m sure this will be a wonderful resource for those who find occasion to use it. But, it is expensive, and even proponents of high speed rail have said that the plan has some significant flaws. It certainly benefits the population centers more than the rural areas it doesn’t reach or just passes through. And, it had a budget estimate that rose to near $100B dollars before being penciled back down to it’s current sixty eight billion.

Being in a different sort of high-speed business, I wondered: what would sixty eight billion buy if we decided to invest in glass fiber instead of steel rails? Could you “visit” LA at the speed of light instead, if we had chosen to spend this amount of money differently?

Fiber infrastructure also isn’t cheap: we have found that building Fiber-to-the-premise costs $500-$2500 per premise passed, plus a few hundred in equipment per premise connected. The costs of the equipment and operation are both going down over time.

This cost data suggests that $68B would be enough to build full Gigabit Fiber infrastructure to every single one of California’s more than thirteen million homes and nearly four million business. And, there would probably be enough left over to toss in the first year of Gigabit service, free (calculated at our current rate of $69.95/mo for Gigabit access including two phone lines).

It would be correct to point out that there are a number of very rural homes that are extremely expensive to reach with fiber, so perhaps that last few thousand households might take a few extra billion. But heck, these big infrastructure projects are expected to run a little over budget, right? And, those super-rural locations certainly aren’t going to get much benefit from a train that only traverses half the state.

Now, I guess we just have to hope that they can build this fancy new train on time and on budget.

Please comment below: What would you prefer: a 220Mph train, or 1000Mbps fiber?