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Google Fiber’s Advice for Cities Looking to Work With High-Speed Internet Providers

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Having a clear vision, "one-touch make-ready" policies for utility pole attachments and updated rules and regulations are among the tips that are critically important, according to Google Fiber’s expansion lead for the western U.S.

SEATTLE — Google Fiber is perhaps the most high-profile private-sector provider of high-speed broadband Internet, and when it moves into a new metropolitan area or signals interest in a particular locality or urbanized region for expansion, it attracts a lot of attention.

After launching its first high-speed fiber effort in Kansas City, Kansas, in 2011, Google Fiber is now working with 22 metropolitan areas in the United States to either build out an ultra-fast broadband network or plan a potential expansion.

Unfortunately, the folks at Google Fiber and in municipal governments cannot simply snap their fingers and make gigabit connectivity magically materialize.

“Deploying new fiber networks is really challenging work,” Brien Bell, Google Fiber’s expansion lead for the western United States, said on Monday afternoon during Digital Northwest regional summit for broadband leaders hosted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, NTIA’s BroadbandUSA program and the Next Century Cities coalition at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center on Seattle’s Elliott Bay waterfront.

Bell outlined four general themes that cities and other local jurisdictions should be thinking about when they’re getting ready to move forward on a plan to expand broadband access in their community, whether they’re looking to potentially work with Google Fiber or another provider.

  • First and foremost: “Have a clear broadband vision,” Bell said. For providers like Google Fiber, it’s important to see strong municipal leadership at city halls with officials who want to bring broadband connectivity to their community. With strong leadership comes an eager customer base, he said. And with Google Fiber, “we want to know that people in that community will use it.”
  • When a provider like Google Fiber starts working with a new municipality or other local government, it requires a lot of collaboration with different types of agencies. There are many “moving pieces,” Bell said, who noted that Google Fiber is looking for a cross-functional panel of stakeholders with a single point of contact—a contact, Bell noted, who is also empowered to make decisions.
  • Municipalities and other local governments need to support ways to streamline construction, especially when it comes to regulations governing pole attachments—where service providers share space on utility poles to connect their digital infrastructure, including fiber. “We support one-touch make-ready policies,” Bell said, referring to the rules that, as a Next Century Cities backgrounder describes them, allow “a single crew to move all attachments on a pole on a single visit, rather than sending in a unique crew to move each attachment sequentially.”  
  • Bell also said that municipalities and local governments interested in working with Google Fiber or another service provider that’s building out a new broadband network should make sure that their policy frameworks, rules and regulations are up-to-date, including franchise laws and permitting.

Bell also discussed a new expansion approach Google Fiber is moving on in Huntsville, Alabama, which could serve as a model for other cities. In Huntsville, the municipal utility is building a smart grid network and is looking at leasing the unused fiber from the city-owned network for service providers, like Google Fiber.

While Google Fiber and Huntsville have moved forward on an agreement, other Internet service providers could also utilize that network and compete with Google Fiber.

“We’re excited to make that vision a reality,” Bell said.

Huntsville isn’t the only city looking at that partnership model and for good reason: “It can bring more internet to more people more quickly,” Bell said.

Editor's Note: Route Fifty will have additional coverage from the Digital Northwest conference later this week.

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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