Fiber to the Premise Regulatory

Google Spurring FTTH Deployment in the Former Valley of the Heart’s Delight

Picture of a boom truck with a technician pulling fiber on an existing utility pole line for Google.
Courtesy of Google

After seemingly bypassing the hometowns of many of its employees last January, Google Fiber reappeared this Fall in the cities of San Jose and Santa Clara. It may not be news they are seriously considering a Silicon Valley deployment (Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Palo Alto are slated for service), but the details of how they are going to deploy, the impact on competition and how it complements existing infrastructure may turn out to be the real story.

CEQA’s Hidden Cost to Broadband

After reading through the 200+ page, Google-commissioned Draft Initial Study, it’s no wonder that Google’s Milo Medin stated in 2013 that Google wouldn’t come to California as long as CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) was in place. The design of a Fiber to the Home network is trivial compared to the multi-disciplinary effort required to create their report to satisfy the demands of CEQA (in this case, to get an exemption from CEQA). The study is an interesting read, as far as providing background for things such as the history, geological composition, and locations of bats in the capital of Silicon Valley.

For a project of this size, a company with deep pockets, like Google, can afford to cover the upfront costs of the studies that, in turn, will be amortized over hundreds of thousands of households of customers. That’s not always the case for relatively small projects in rural areas, as this author has heard from at least one California-based Communications Service Providers that CEQA often has a significant impact on the ability of providers to bring broadband to rural parts of the Golden State.

As background, on December 2nd, San Jose’s City Council,  “approved a resolution adopting the Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Google Fiber Project and related Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program, in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act.” Similarly the city of Santa Clara held a study session on December 15th where city staff suggested that Google’s plan for its burg should also be exempt from CEQA requirements. Although these deployments are not set in stone, that Google is even entertaining fiber builds in California is still somewhat surprising given earlier comments about the complications of building in California due to CEQA.

Take-Aways #

Some of the significant take-aways from the recent city of Santa Clara study session, as well as reading through the submitted documentation to the city of San Jose are:

  1. The city of Santa Clara December 15th study session regarding Google Fiber.
    Santa Clara Study Session on Google Fiber.

    Google appears to be considering the city of Santa Clara (population 120,000) as one big fiber hood. This is significant, as Google’s initial builds were done by popularity (e.g. they would go to those areas where they got enough sign-ups). Their fiber hood strategy was controversial in some circles, as it harkened back to the early cable days of so-called redlining where operators would avoid building in parts of cities that were not economically viable. At the December 2nd, 2015 San Jose Council meeting (page 81), Google’s Jenna Wandres stated that, “We aren’t going around and cherry picking neighborhoods or specific neighborhoods.”

  2. One of the agreements that Google developed with the cities is a “Rapid Deployment Agreement”. This appears to streamline the permitting process by making the city responsive to Google‘s build. The cities are compensated for the extra work required to ensure deployments are not held up through the permitting and inspection process. This is consistent with their early deployment in Kansas City.
  3. Google is working closely with the Santa Clara’s municipal electric provider, Silicon Valley Power, which is owned by the City of Santa Clara, for equipment space and rights-of-way. That Silicon Valley Power is especially supportive to this project indicates that they see the fiber project being a service to their customers and a complement to their municipal fiber and WiFi network.
  4. Ericsson, which announced a partnership with fiber construction companies and vendors several months ago, appears to be the project manager for at least some portion of the Google Fiber build. The Ericsson name appears as the applicant on the San Jose permits for Google’s fiber huts.
  5. Google indicates it will be a 36 month build for both cities, after they start the project. Google would not commit to a start date to either city. The decision on when to start seems like a business decision, as from a permitting and local regulatory approval standpoint, it appears that Google should be able to start construction as early as Q1 2016.
An image of a Google Fiber billboard in Provo, Utah.
Google Fiber in Provo, UT

Sparking Competition #

Regardless of Google’s start date, their pre-build efforts are kindling the flames of competition in the former Valley of the Heart’s Delight. For instance, this author spoke to an individual this week who was contracted by AT&T to survey their existing plant in San Jose in preparation for replacement of AT&T’s decades-old last-mile copper with fiber to the home. And Comcast has begun advertising 2 Gb symmetric upload/download speeds (must be within 1/3 mile of their existing fiber plant) for $299/month. By the time, Google builds out, Comcast will surely drop their prices to be competitive with Google’s lower price/bit ($70/month for gigabit down, if Google’s existing fiber deployments are a guide).

With all this activity, maybe 2016 will be the year that Silicon Valley finally sees the launch of a cost-effective, fiber-to-the-home infrastructure.

Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on independent telcos’ efforts to offer video to their customers. He has edited and produced numerous multimedia projects for NTCA, US Telecom and Viodi. Pyle is the producer of Viodi’s Local Content Workshop, the Video Production Crash Course at NAB, as well as ViodiTV. He has been intimately involved in Viodi’s consulting projects and has created processes for clients to use for their PPV and VOD operations, as well authored reports on the independent telco market.

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