Gigabit Cities

Google: Gigabit Hopefuls Need to Do Homework

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Gigabit Cities Live 2016 -- Cities that want to attract a gigabit fiber network need to do their homework first, and that includes digitizing many of the infrastructure records that today may be sitting somewhere in dusty basements in cardboard boxes. That was one message Google Fiber's Michael Slinger, director of business operations, had for the Gigabit Cities crowd here this week.

Slinger admitted that handling basic processes such as that one have slowed the Google Fiber Inc. rollout in places such as Austin, Texas, which was the second city announced -- well, technically third after the Kansas Cities in Missouri and Kansas. (See Google Will Accelerate Fiber, Cloud in 2016 and Alphabet Is Serious About Google Fiber.)

"When we did Austin, it was a complex thing to launch," Slinger said in a Q&A session with Light Reading Senior Editor Mari Silbey. "We did negotiations beforehand and announced our plans to deploy but then we did a lot of the work after. It takes a lot of people and really smooth processes within City Hall.

Talkin' Fiber
Google Fiber's Michael Slinger explains the local challenges for getting gigabit networks in place.
Google Fiber's Michael Slinger explains the local challenges for getting gigabit networks in place.

Those processes include digitizing city records and facility maps that may have only existed on paper, but also preparing city departments to process basic requests much faster, such as construction permits and access to utility poles.

"If we could frontload some of that work and research and really understand before we got too far into it what we are facing, it would help," Slinger said. "Like, can you have a city department ready to process 500 permits a month or 400 poles a week, versus 20? If your city wants to get ready for fiber here are the things you have to do quickly and they involve people, processes and underlying data."

Telecom companies are, of course, very familiar with the processes Slinger is referencing, and with the need to digitize records. Twenty years ago, their rollout of DSL was slowed substantially by the inability to easily access local outside plant records to detect if there were impediments to the broadband service before a customer was promised delivery. Cities, with more limited abilities to expand their budgets and their departments, have a significant challenge on their hands here.

"Some cities have invested in modernizing [records] and those cities are much more ready to take on a project such as ours," Slinger comments. Later in the conversation, when discussing an entirely different topic, he added, with a laugh: "Every city is a snowflake," referring to the different conditions on the ground for gigabit fiber networks.

Several North Carolina cities are already on board with this digitization process, including the six involved in North Carolina Next Generation Network -- Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh and Winston-Salem -- and others such as Greensboro, which helped launched the Tri-Gig project that also involves Burlington and High Point. As part of their RFP processes, the partner cities did their own inventory of existing assets including fiber and conduit, and did a lot of the digitization work of records. Greensboro CIO Jane Nickles told event attendees in a later panel that her city spent a couple of years making sure it knew where its fiber was, and going through the records digitization process. Tri-Gig just issued its own RFP. (See Gigabites: NC Cities Issue New Gig RFP.)

Learn more about Smart Cities at our upcoming Big Communications Event in Austin, TX, May 24-25. You can register now.

This is hardly the first time Google Fiber execs have stressed the practical problems around building out fiber optic networks to residences and businesses. Milo Medin, VP of access services for Google, spend considerable time proselytizing to the industry on the need for policy reforms to aid FTTX. (See Google's Medin Urges Competition-Friendly Net Policies.)

Google is still very determined to meet the original goals of Google Fiber, which are to get more people online at higher speeds -- which benefits Google in the long run, he admitted. That includes working with cities where it is building out fiber to make sure public housing, specifically, and less affluent neighborhoods as well, get access to services and, in many cases, training and low-cost or free computers.

Slinger also said Google is open to a wide range of deployment models, whether it's becoming an anchor tenant on a municipal network, as it is doing in Huntsville, Ala., or buying an existing fiber infrastructure, as it did in Provo, Utah. "We're too young to just have one way of doing things," he said, although the company does look for similar patterns when it enters a new city, to what it's seen in the past. (See Google to Weave Fiber to Huntsville, Ala.)

The Internet giant recently added Google Voice -- a VoIP service he refused to call "landline" -- and is bundling voice, data and video. Interestingly, even a company with pockets as deep as Google's feels crippled by the high cost of video content and the secretive negotiation process through which those costs are negotiated, with established players getting large volume discounts. It's one of many barriers Google is hoping federal regulators will address. (See Google Fiber Moves a Step Closer to Cable and Panel Advises FCC Access to Content Contracts.)

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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