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Momentum Mounting for Municipal Gigabit

Jason Meyers
1/14/2015
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Supporters of high-speed municipal broadband networks have gathered here to swap success stories and address the challenges of becoming a Gigabit City in a week that is shaping up to be very favorable to their cause.

The Gigabit City Summit convened this week in Kansas City, the first region to get an operational service offering from Google Fiber Inc. , drawing a host of mayors, city managers, municipal utility operators and city CIOs from around the US hoping to learn from the experiences of Kansas City and each another. The summit is occurring as the White House is promoting that President Obama will use an appearance in Cedar Falls, Iowa on Wednesday to announce several municipal-friendly broadband initiatives.

The President's moves will include a recommendation to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to support local choice for broadband competition and oppose state laws that bar municipalities from operating networks. Obama also plans to propose a new Department of Commerce initiative to promote broadband deployment and new options for federal funding. (See The Municipal Menace? and Dems Urge FCC Action to Protect Muni Nets.)

That could be very good news for the supporters of municipal broadband networks attending the Gigabit City Summit, where the first day focused largely on the success of Kansas City in attracting Google Fiber and what other cities could take from that experience. In his opening keynote, Blair Levin -- the architect of the FCC's National Broadband Plan who now heads the university-backed gigabit initiative Gig.U -- noted that in all of the communities targeted by Google Fiber, incumbent telecom and cable operators have responded in some fashion. (See Tales of the Gigabit City, 2014 Edition and AT&T Grows Gigabit Goals.)

"We should not kid ourselves -- press releases are not the same as fiber deployments," Levin said. "But there's a lot of evidence that it's starting to happen."


For the latest on urban network innovation, visit Light Reading's dedicated Gigabit Cities content channel. And watch for forthcoming details on Light Reading's Gigabit Cities Live event, to be held in May 2015 in Atlanta.


The evidence of service provider interest in municipally backed networks is not strong at this event, however. Cox Communications Inc. is the only incumbent broadband service provider with a presence.

Not surprisingly, Google Fiber's role at this Kansas City event is prominent. Jill Szuchmacher, director of expansion for Google Fiber, kicked off her segment with the quip "I'm not making any announcements today," a nod to the hunger -- especially from broadband-starved cities -- for more information about where Google Fiber plans to go next. (See Is Google Good for Gigabit?)

Szuchmacher (who also noted that she wouldn't take any questions) mostly focused on the process of working with cities and what both Google Fiber and the cities have learned so far. "There was a lot we didn't know about a city when we would go in," she said. "We basically got married before we went on a first date."

Szuchmacher said Google Fiber is encouraged by the mounting push for and excitement about ultra-high-speed broadband and encouraged the city leaders in attendance to explore all options and partnerships for deployment.

"We do not see ourselves, by any stretch, as the only solution here," she said. "We are one small piece."

Several representatives of both Kansas City, Kan. and Kansas City, Mo. -- including the mayors of both cities -- also addressed attendees, sharing what they have learned about their interactions with Google Fiber. Rick Usher, assistant city manager of Kansas City, Mo., strongly encouraged other cities to pursue collaboration rather than trying to go it alone.

"Partner with an incredibly qualified gigabit ISP," he said. "I'm not a big fan of municipally-owned. I don't know how we'd manage that."

Usher also dismissed criticism from other cities that Kansas City gave too many concessions to Google Fiber in order to be first with an acknowledgment of how important it was for the city to be first.

"Many cities tell us we gave away too much," Usher said. "Who remembers the 20th person who climbed Mt. Everest?"

— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, Light Reading

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KBode
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KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/14/2015 | 3:05:27 PM
Re: More interest from service providers?
These muni-builds are like any business plan, some are good and some are bad. I do agree that public/private can often work better, though. A lot of these incumbent ISP written laws blockading this stuff in 19 states contain language even prohibiting that possibility. Was happy to see the government (albeit belatedly) finally take aim at them this week.
jasonmeyers
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jasonmeyers,
User Rank: Blogger
1/14/2015 | 11:45:54 AM
Re: More interest from service providers?
Agreed -- partnerships seem to be the best bet for providers in smaller markets, especially in areas where municipalities would put their energy and local connections into promoting the presence of a gigabit network in their communities, supporting an entrepreneurial community around it, etc. Those efforts could prove to be valuable promotion for service provider networks. But you're right -- obviously, the economic case for building out a network has to be there to make it worth it for commercial service providers. 
mendyk
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mendyk,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/14/2015 | 11:21:09 AM
Re: More interest from service providers?
The spirit is willing, but the will goes only as far as the money allows it to go. Most local governments are struggling to make basic ends meet. It's doubtful that operators will see them as a significant competitive threat in the markets that matter to them. Partnerships of some sort are the more realistic path.
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/14/2015 | 11:17:09 AM
Re: More interest from service providers?
There are several overbuilders that could build FTTH networks in small communities typically served by large carriers.  The question will be:  "What is the business case for the Overbuilder?"  Could the muni do a bond issue to pay for the buildout and then get paid back over time by the partner?  The problem with the current model is that all these firms have more profitable things to do.  So, munis need to look at this as "I need to create a business model that allows a great 2 year ROI."   That is the benchmark.

seven

 
jasonmeyers
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jasonmeyers,
User Rank: Blogger
1/14/2015 | 10:17:46 AM
More interest from service providers?
Does anyone think potential changes in the state laws regarding municipal broadband competition will prompt incumbent broadband providers to direct more attention to smaller communities seeking broadband? These towns and cities of all sizes are hungry for it, and looking for partners. 
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