In the wake of possible broadband consolidation, Google Fiber expands to nine new cities

Google will start the process to bring its gigabit, fiber-to-the-home service to as many as nine new areas, the company said on Wednesday. Google, which has deployed fiber to Kansas City and in Provo, Utah, and is also set to build out a network in Austin, Texas, has helped get cities excited about getting faster broadband and the economic development they hope will follow the connectivity.
In a blog post Google named up to 34 cities that could get a broadband upgrade. They are:

  • Arizona- Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe
  • California- San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto
  • Georgia- Atlanta, Avondale Estates, Brookhaven, College Park, Decatur, East Point, Hapeville, Sandy Springs, Smyrna
  • North Carolina- Charlotte, Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Garner, Morrisville, Raleigh
  • Oregon- Portland, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Gresham, Lake Oswego, Tigard
  • Tennessee- Nashville-Davidson
  • Texas- San Antonio
  • Utah- Salt Lake City

Rather than pledge fiber, as it has done in the three other cities Google is working with, the company is pledging to work with city officials to help them prepare for fiber. Once the city leaders build out their plans, Google will decide if it plans to work with the municipality. In an FAQ, Google said it hopes to determine which cities will get the service by the end of this year.

We’re going to work on a detailed study of local factors that could affect construction, like topography (e.g., hills, flood zones), housing density and the condition of local infrastructure. Meanwhile, cities will complete a checklist of items that will help them get ready for a project of this scale and speed. For example, they’ll provide us with maps of existing conduit, water, gas and electricity lines so that we can plan where to place fiber. They’ll also help us find ways to access existing infrastructure—like utility poles—so we don’t unnecessarily dig up streets or have to put up a new pole next to an existing one.

This news is likely welcome to these towns, and drives home Google’s reasoning for deploying fiber. It wants to change the nature of broadband in the U.S. by influencing demand (people are now pumped about a gigabit, even though they don’t know what they will use it for. It has helped drive down pricing for other gigabit services and even slower broadband services, and it has helped cities demand faster broadband while considering providers outside the usual cable and telco boxes. In short, it’s serving as a competitive force for better broadband.
But Google has been accused of not doing enough. When it announced its gigabit plans in 2010, it said it would provide an open network — one that other providers could use to deliver internet service as well. This was unprecedented in the U.S., although certain cities, such as Amsterdam, have such open networks. Later, Google backpedalled on an open fiber network, and even as recently as this month has faced criticism for being pretty closemouthed about how it is deploying fiber — something other cities and smaller fiber providers could learn from.
Google seems to have taken these critics to heart, offering a detailed post last week about how cities can manage their own fiber buildouts, and now with this announcement, that could galvanize cities to ready themselves for gigabit speeds. From the post:

While we do want to bring Fiber to every one of these cities, it might not work out for everyone. But cities who go through this process with us will be more prepared for us or any provider who wants to build a fiber network. In fact, we want to give everyone a boost in their thinking about how to bring fiber to their communities; we plan to share what we learn in these 34 cities, and in the meantime you can check out some tips in a recent guest post on the Google Fiber blog by industry expert Joanne Hovis. Stay tuned for updates, and we hope this news inspires more communities across America to take steps to get to a gig.

And that in a nutshell is what Google is after: Increasing the pressure on cities, regulators and the incumbent providers to think about how to get better broadband. While that’s a goal that will benefit Google and its myriad products, it’s also a goal that will benefit the average consumer. Because right now, as Comcast is planning a $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable, the incumbents aren’t necessarily thinking about lowering prices or boosting speeds; they are thinking about boosting their bottom line.
Doubt that? Comcast’s David Cohen, in discussing the merger said, “We’re certainly not promising that customer bills are going to go down or even increase less rapidly.”
Meanwhile, Google, Sonic.Net, Chattanooga, Tenn. electrical utility, the city of Lafayette, La., Australian infrastructure finance company Macquarie and Vermont Tel are all pushing U.S. broadband to gigabit speeds. Which mentality would you rather have in your broadband provider?
Update: The summary excerpt of this post was corrected to reflect that tGoogle added new cities in eight states.