There’s been a lot of speculation about Google’s plans to deploy Gigabit fiberoptic Internet. Where will they deploy? What are the criteria? How many homes will they serve? Will they favor cities, or rural areas?
Your guess is as good as mine. But as a part of the global tech community and as someone who has spent a lot of time at Google and with people from Silicon Valley, these are my guesses about what they might do.
Cities Offer Higher Returns
Cities have the kind of density required to deliver a lower cost-per-home deployment. Less cable, a single point of negotiation and contact, and the ability to deploy using lateral construction from fiber conduits means lower overall costs.
Multi-family housing means more customers per square mile. Baltimore has a city-owned conduit system which can serve over 90% of the area of the city — without requiring the use of poles or negotiating with third party utilities.
Rural Areas Cannot Be Served Profitably
Telephone companies receive funds from the Universal Service Fund to subsidize service in areas that otherwise cannot be profitably served. Google is not subject to the regulatory framework (Communications Acts of 1934 and 1996) that would give it access to USF funds; in fact, it has every incentive to fight to avoid falling under such regulation.
Google is not a charity, it’s not being subsidized by the government, and it is not a monopoly. There is no special reason why Google should care about making services available in rural areas, and there is certainly no profit motive. Rural service requires fuel, vehicles, and people on the ground. Every part of this is expensive; it’s why it loses money and why it has to be subsidized by USF funds.
Google simply has no motive at all to serve rural areas. I’ll eat cat meat if Google selects a rural area for this trial. It just won’t happen.
Tech Is Opinionated
Google has opinions. In the tech world, people take a stand: Google and Apple both expressed strong opinions about how a smartphone ought to operate. Opinionated software is an emerging trend in software tools. Software designers bake their opinions into the tools they create. People who use those tools end up adopting those opinions; if they don’t, the tools become counterproductive, and they are better off using different tools.
There is every reason to believe that Google’s opinion is that the suburbs are obsolete, and that that opinion will inform their strategy for building out a fiber network. Here’s why Google likely believes the suburbs are obsolete:
- Suburbs rely on car culture, which consumes time; that’s time that people can’t spend on the Internet, making money for Google.
- Suburbs are not energy efficient, requiring lifestyles that generate more CO2 emissions. Google has said it wants to see greater energy efficiency in America.
- Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said he wants to see America close its innovation deficit. There’s nothing innovative about the design of the suburbs. It’s a tired model.
- Schmidt has supported Al Gore politically and in his efforts to combat global warming. Regardless of what you might think of Al Gore or global warming, we have a pretty good idea what Google thinks of the issue.
- Gigabit Fiber in cities could utterly revitalize them. We’ve been looking for ways to fix our cities for the last 50 years. The last renaissance was powered by large-scale economics; a new renaissance can be launched with large-scale communications investment.
- Google’s employees are young, idealistic, and believe in self-powered transportation. It’s worth pointing out that the Google Fiber project lead, Minnie Ingersoll, is an avid cyclist.
The Suburbs Are Done
I’ve said it before. So have others. But I’m not promoting that they be subject to some kind of post-apocalyptic ghettoization, either, so calm down. No one’s threatening your commute or your backyard barbecue.
But what I am saying is that at some point we need to take a stand about where we’re going to invest in our future. About where we believe we can regain competitive advantage and efficiency.
I believe our only hope to do that is with smart, well-designed urban cores, connected with world-class communications infrastructure and fast, green, and efficient people-powered transportation. And I think Google believes that too. Bet on it.