How Kansas Won the Google Fiber Jackpot
And Why California Never Will
The residents of three small Kansas cities on Friday joined their neighbors inKansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO in celebrating the launch of GoogleFiber, an initiative that promises to bring blazing fast Internet to their homes at an affordable price by the end of next year.
Google first announced the project to deliver 1 gigabit-per-second Internet connections to residential homes in February 2010. Google asked communities and local governments who were interested in having Google build a network in their community to answer some questions online. Nearly 1,100 communities responded.
In March 2011, Google announced it had selected Kansas City, KS as the site for the experimental network. A few months later it expanded the project to Kansas City, MO. On Friday, Google added Westwood, Westwood Hills and Mission Woods.
The new fiber network could bring huge benefits to these communities, including a boost in property values and new jobs, as businesses find ways to take advantage of increased connectivity. Compared to other areas of the country, the cost of a Google connection is a bargain—$70 a month for Internet service or $120 a month for Internet and television service.
“Why did we pick Kansas City?” Milo Medin, Google’s vice president of access services said. “We wanted to find a location where we could build quickly and efficiently. Kansas City has great infrastructure. And Kansas has a great, business-friendly environment for us to deploy a service. The utility here has all kinds of conduit in it that avoids us having to tear the streets open and a bunch of other stuff that really differentiates it from other places in the country.”
Medin also cited Google’s desire to have an impact on econonmic development and to build relationships with local government and civic organizations. But the key thing was that city officials promised to get out of the media giant’s way. They didn’t dangle tax breaks, but they did deliver access to public rights of way, expedite the permiting process, offer space in city facilities and provide assistance with marketing and public relations.
Despite good intentions, the project still got snagged by months-long delays. Kansas City residents on both sides of the state line were supposed to have access to the service by 2012. Instead the rollout is just beginning now.
The delay arose, at least in part, from a dispute over where and how to hang fiber wires off of utility poles, and how much that would cost. Though eventually resolved, the dispute over the utility poles helps illustrate why similar fiber-to-the-home projects have been so difficult to carry out.
In testimony before Congress last year, Medin discussed how infrastructure issues, including rights-of-way, utility poles, conduit and ducts are critical to making the economics of a fiber network work.
“Let’s start with rights-of-way,” he said. “Governments across the country control access to the rights-of-way that private companies need in order to lay fiber. And government regulation of these rights-of-way often results in unreasonable fees, anti-investment terms and conditions, and long and unpredictable build-out timeframes. The expense and complexity of obtaining acess to public rights-of-way in many jurisdictions increase the cost and slow the pace of broadband network investment and deployment.”
Medin also described how outdated pole attachment regulations can create huge delays. While hanging fiber from utlity poles should be easier and less expensive than tearing up a street, regulations often get in the way.
In California in particular, environmental regulations prevent companies from improving the telecommunications infrastructure, Medin said.
“Google is a big believer in protecting the environment for future generations, but certain types of state and local environmental rules make investment very difficult,” he explained. ” Laws like the California Environmental Quality Act can make it prohibitively expensive for companies to invest in new projects, such as our fiber project, within California.
“ Many fine California city proposals for the Google Fiber project were ultimately passed over in part because of the regulatory complexity here brought about by CEQA and other rules. Other states have equivalent processes in place to protect the environment without causing such harm to business processes, and therefore create incentives for new services to be deployed there instead.”
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