Comcast can feel hard to avoid among the internet options in San Francisco, given their 100% coverage within city limits.
However, service options have increased substantially in recent years, and most homes and apartments now have at least 2 options, or as many as 4 to choose from.
Wireless and 5G internet from Common and Monkeybrains have increased wireless options that can compete with traditional cable on speed and price. Fiber has also increased within San Francisco, with more than half the city now covered by either Sonic or AT&T.
- Sonic: Best fiber internet alternative.
- AT&T: Most common fiber alternative.
- Raw Bandwidth Communications: best home office provider.
- Common: Best 5G internet option.
- Monkeybrains: best fixed wireless service.
- Earthlink: best ultra-budget option.
Finding internet alternatives in San Francisco
In most cities, the FCC broadband map is a great place to start when prospecting internet options at your building.
Unfortunately, this is not true in San Francisco.
Because many of the competitive alternatives are very new, they are not yet listed most places online. On commercial sites, local internet providers like Common and Sonic are commonly not listed because they don’t have big ad budgets like Comcast.
The bad news: California has an overall uncompetative internet service market, and ranks near the bottom on state rankings for service quality.
The good news: Thanks to maturing wireless technology and increased fiber buildouts, most homes now have multiple internet options above 100 Mbps.
Fiber internet options in Los Angeles
Sonic is a longtime favorite for internet service in the Bay Area, and has been building out a fiber network over the last 5+ years.
Note that even with fiber service, Sonic requires you to receive a home phone line (VoIP). This is an odd quirk in 2020 with so few people using landlines, but it doesn't impact your price, so consider it a free home office line.
- Gigabit service starting price: $39.99.
- Benefits: no data caps, local customer service.
AT&T offers fiber service in San Francisco as well. Their coverage area does not overlap with Sonic, so if you can't get Sonic, try AT&T.
The customer service isn't rated as well, and the pricing tends to be higher (especially for TV bundles). However, it's much more reliable than Xfinity and offers faster download speed for the price. As with most fiber services, the upload speed matches the download speed, unlike the surprisingly low 35 Mbps download speed offered by Comcast cable.
- Gigabit service starting price: $49.99.
- Benefits: no data caps, local customer service.
Internet Resellers in San Francisco
Note that Sonic also offers DSL as a reseller on AT&T lines. It’s not as fast as their fiber plans, but they offer some nice perks for home office users like static IPs.
Raw Bandwidth Communications
RBC is a small company in the Bay Area (San Bruno) that offers DSL service resold over AT&T lines. Their specialty is in ultra-specific bespoke plans, primarily for business use but also for home offices and residential "power users."
The benefit of RBC is that when you call them, it's just a few guys — usually the owner of the company. While they don't list plans and pricing publicly, that's because they offer highly customized service.
Running a complex tech business out of a home office? This is the shop to call.
Earthlink is a newcomer to the Bay Area, offering resold service over AT&T DSL and Fiber lines.
As a nationwide company, Earthlink does not have a strong track record for customer service. They are not a "local" option in San Francisco, although they do offer more favorable pricing than AT&T for the same speeds at many addresses.
Budget plans lower than $20/mo are the main draw for Earthlink, although these plans have very low bandwidth compared to AT&T plans.
- Entry price for speeds of at least 25 Mbps: $69.95.
- Benefits: no data caps, avoiding AT&T customer service.
Fixed Wireless internet alternatives in San Francisco
Billing themselves as "the most punk rock ISP in the Bay Area," Monkeybrains focuses on neighborhoods that are poorly served by Comcast and AT&T, and do not have fiber backups. Monkeybrains is a fixed wireless service, meaning that it can be installed in locations where wired service might not be feasible.
As a local company, the main selling point of Monkeybrains is the local customer service. The owners and employees are knowledgable about networking and respond to issues much faster and more thoroughly than you'd expect coming from a standard cable company.
5G home internet in Los Angeles
Common internet launched in San Francisco in 2019, and has been building out a fixed 5G network in suburban areas like Alameda.
The service requires line of site with a Common tower, similar to mobile service, and also requires installation of a reception device on customer homes. As such, it's best suited for suburban single-family homes and apartement buildings.
- Entry price for speeds of at least 25 Mbps: $50.
- Benefits: 200 Mbps upload speeds, simple pricing with no fees.
Reasons for low internet quality in San Francisco and the Bay Area
Internet access isn’t actually bad in the Bay Area overall — it’s specifically bad for residential users. San Francisco has abundant niche fiber providers dedicated to connecting office parks and large tech companies. In the Bay Area, Palo Alto even has municipal fiber options, allowing large companies to take advantage of dark fiber invested in by the city back in the 90s.
Residential consumers, however, are less well connected. Within San Francisco city limits, only around half of the city has residential fiber access. The rest is stuck choosing between cable and DSL, which really means just choosing cable. While some of the companies above provide competative wireless service, it’s dependent on line of site with customers, so it doesn’t work for everyone.
Will more internet options come to the Bay Area?
Starry Internet recently filed one block of coverage in San Francisco with the FCC, and has indicated in press releases that they’re considering San Francisco as an expansion area. They would be competing with Common and Monkeybrains for fixed wireless service, effectively making San Francisco one of the most active internet markets for fixed wireless startups. The vast majority of fixed wireless companies focus on rural areas, so this is a unique service option that most cities don’t have. It makes sense that San Fran would be first to launch services like this, given the high population of potential founders with startup and networking backgrounds. In fact, Common was launched by ex-Square employees. Starry