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

faustjonson 4/26/2016 | 10:19:29 AM
test test
mendyk 4/9/2016 | 8:43:31 AM
Re: Life's hard Hi, David -- It's clear that the various components of our infrastructure need to be modernized if not completely ripped out and rebuilt. One problem, though, is that municipal governments are at the bottom of the revenue chain. Google's approach of expecting local governments to conform to its specifications is going to limit the list of GF-eligible cities. Maybe that's how Google wants it. After all, the cities that do have the resources to modernize their bureaucracies also are the ones that are most likely to have the higher-income residents that Google and everyone else wants to reach. Which of course means reinforcing the barrier between the haves and the have-nots.
davidhoffman5 4/9/2016 | 12:42:24 AM
Digitization of municipal infrastructure records. This would be a more interesting part of the current election cycle than seeing who visits which local restaurant to get to the White House. Infrastructure support.
davidhoffman5 4/9/2016 | 12:34:14 AM
Re: Life's hard The quintupling of capability is not necessarily undesirable for all the other future businesses in the city. You quintuple for GF and other ISPs. After the big ISP buildouts you reduce by 40%. You end up with a dpartment with 3X the capability and that is more attractive to those seeking to do things in your city.
davidhoffman5 4/9/2016 | 12:27:08 AM
Re: Life's hard By appaarently using some existing FTTX GF was able to connect some large Atlanta area MDUs rather quickly. It only supports a very small percentage of the metro Atlanta area residences, but GF is more open to this type of using existing resources approach than it was previously.
danielcawrey 4/8/2016 | 8:26:04 PM
Re: Life's hard It is clear Google Fiber is pushing municpalities to modernize their systems.

Technology has a way of doing that. I'm not sure what would motivate cities to move off of paper if there is really no impetus to do so. Nice work, Google. You are modernizing America with Google Fiber! 
jbtombes 4/8/2016 | 5:12:22 PM
Re: Life's hard I see 22 cities on this expansion plan map: https://fiber.google.com/newcities/ So there must be some kind of guide or onboarding process. Btw, Atlanta and Provo are also listed as "current." How are those going? 
mendyk 4/8/2016 | 12:41:08 PM
Re: Life's hard " ... the cities that get their act together stand a better chance." As they say in Flint, that's a lead-pipe cinch. I wonder if Google has a formal outreach program in place that could guide local governments through the conditions required.
cnwedit 4/8/2016 | 12:31:14 PM
Re: Life's hard As we all suspected, Google learned in general that FTTX wasn't as easy to do as it might hvae thought. I think they've learned a lot and the fact they are still at it is to their credit. 

I would have to say "bureaucracy" is more the thing they are bucking, than laziness. And there is a realization on everyone's part that city budgets are limited. The idea that a city would quintuple the size of its permitting department for a brief period is acknowledged as unlikely and unreasonable. 

But since they can pick and choose where they go, the cities that get their act together stand a better chance.
mendyk 4/8/2016 | 11:44:33 AM
Life's hard Google is learning some fundamental lessons about the way local and state governments work (or don't work). I'm guessing that Google went into this venture knowing about the snowflake situation, but it sounds as though it caught them by surprise a bit. There's also a whiff of attitude that the logistical issues are all due to bureaucratic laziness. No doubt there's some of that, but there's also a lack of money to address core infrastructure issues that are more important than making life easier for an overbuilder (see Flint, MI, for instance). Not every city government is as accommodating as San Francisco.
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