4 Reasons Why Seattle Will Never See Google Fiber
/ March 4, 2014
This rule appears to be unique in the nation. Certainly it is not used by any other city in the Seattle area, or by Phoenix, Denver or Minneapolis. As a result, telecommunications companies invest their dollars for improving broadband elsewhere, and cities like Graham, Washington, have much faster Internet speeds than Seattle.
Citizens’ groups have tried to change this rule. UPTUN (Upping Technology for Underserved Neighbors) has been working on it for four years to little avail. And again, this is a rule, not a law or ordinance, which means it could be changed with just a stroke of the SDOT Director’s or Mayor’s pen.
4. Build out requirements.
Build-out requirements are a standard feature of cable company franchises. A city gives a franchise to a cable company to serve a certain area, such as Seattle, north of the ship canal. But the company has to agree to build out and serve every premise in that area. This is a lofty goal because it means all neighborhoods, rich and poor, get served, although it increases the overall cost because the company builds cable on streets with few customers.
That’s not the way Google does it. In Kansas City there were 202 “fiberhoods,” but each such fiberhood had to have a minimum number of customers sign up for service, or the network would not be constructed. Few customers, no service. Google says that 180 of the 202 Kansas City fiberhoods have qualified for service, including 17 of the 20 with the lowest median incomes.
Given all these restrictions, why would Google ever build in any city?
Some cities recognize the value of high speed broadband and are willing to become partners. Kansas City wanted Google Fiber so badly it agreed, in its contract, to review all permits within five days. The city gave Google space, power and “related services” for its equipment at no charge. They also gave Google access to all its assets and infrastructure without cost. These assets included “conduit, fiber, poles, rack space, nodes, buildings, facilities … [and] available land”.
And the city did not charge Google for permit or inspection fees. There are no build-out requirements, although Google does consult with the city in determining which neighborhoods to serve. Kansas City gave Google a ten year contract on these terms.
Did Kansas City residents complain about these terms? You bet they did. According to the San Jose Mercury News, "they couldn't get the service soon enough."
Austin, Texas, is another impending Google Fiber city. Just the announcement of Google’s plans caused Time-Warner Cable to increase its Internet speed sixfold at no increase in cost.
Provo, Utah, is the third Google Fiber city. It enticed Google by selling its city fiber network, built at a cost of $39 million, to Google for just one dollar. Provo and Austin each have robust technology-based economies – and they are going to expand even further with competitive gigabit broadband.
So is all hope lost for Google Fiber in Seattle? What would it take to entice Google here?
This city is extraordinarily generous in investing in its future. It has passed housing levies and library levies and family-and-education levies. We’re building a $4 billion tunnel under downtown which will serve only a small segment of the population — freight and those driving Highway 99. We’ve considered spending the $700 million or more it would cost to build our own fiber network, which might provide a billion dollars in benefits each year.
Could we simply agree to pay for all the pole replacements and permitting as a city, and hire a few extra employees to expedite the process? Couldn’t we just hand over title to a few strands of the 500 mile fiber cable network we’ve built to Google Fiber? And eliminate archaic rules like the infamous SDOT 2-2009?
In return, we’d get a gigabit of connectivity to homes and businesses throughout the city. Each one of us would get 10 times the speed for half the cost. We’d be as connected as Gladstone, Missouri, and Olathe, Kansas.
There's just one question: Do we love our Seattle process too much?
This article originally appeared on Crosscut.com, a daily Northwest news site dedicated to politics, culture and technology. Reprinted with permission.