Huntsville Utilities and Google Fiber announced today that the utility will construct a dark fiber network and that Google Fiber will offer services to the community via the city's new fiber infrastructure investment.
We applaud Huntsville and Google for helping develop an innovative model that will create more choices for local businesses and residents. We believe this is an important step that can lead to a true market for Internet access, allowing people a real choice in providers while ensuring the network is accountable to local needs.
Next Century Cities (NCC) describes the arrangement as a "promising new model for ensuring greater access to high-quality broadband Internet." We see this as a significant step forward in creating competition and bringing high quality Internet access to every one. For many years, we have seen communities desire to invest in infrastructure but not have to engage in service competition with powerful rivals like Comcast or AT&T.
Huntsville Is Different
Google Fiber is already known for bringing affordable gigabit service to subscribers in Kansas City and Provo, Utah and they have plans to expand in a number of other communities. Huntsville will be more than "just another" Google Fiber community because the infrastructure will belong to the community.
Other providers will be able to offer services via the network as well, ensuring more competition and providing choice for residents and businesses. Smaller providers will have an easier time establishing themselves in Huntsville with infrastructure in place on which to offer services. If subscribers are not happy with one provider, there is a good chance that there will be other options.
In Kansas City or Provo where Google owns the fiber network, the company ultimately decides where to expand. Here the Huntsville community can decide where to build the network. The utility will blanket the community in fiber, rather than building only in areas that have signed up a minimum threshold of subscribers. Because Google is not footing the capital bill, they will now have every incentive to encourage local leaders to make sure no one is left out.
The city is deploying fiber for smart grid purposes and have chosen to lease out spare capacity to improve local connectivity. The dark fiber network will pass everyone but the city is not putting in the drops. The ISP, whether Google or another, will pay for and own the drop as well as the ONT to connect each premise. They will make ongoing payments to the utility for access to the rest of the network.
The utility estimates the project will cost around $55-$60 million reports AL.com:
"We are building the network for our own purposes," utility President and CEO Jay Stowe said in an interview. "It's going to have excess fiber that's available for lease, and Google will be the first company to lease that fiber."
Under the plan, Huntsville Utilities will own the system's fiber backbone, and Google will own the power line-to-home connections, handle all hookups and provide the services.
They [Huntsville Utilities] see it as a low-risk investment, as compared to administering the gigabit internet themselves, which would require a massive increase in personnel in an arena where they have limited expertise.
[Huntsville Utilities President and CEO Jay] Stowe says not only will consumers not see the infrastructure costs on their bills, they may see the outlay lowering their bills in the long run. "This project helps us to have other revenue streams that may help us manage rates even more in the future.”
The city and Google Fiber anticipate first subscribers will be connected by mid-2017 and project will be completed by 2020.
The "Rocket City," home to approximately 180,000 people, began searching for a company to help them improve local connectivity back in 2014. The Mayor and his team have been working on the project for the past seven years. Huntsville is home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center; significant number of engineers and STEM industry graduates live and work there.
It was no surprise when the public expressed an interest in improving local connectivity in an informal 2014 survey. The closeness of Chattanooga's world-famous EPB Fiber network has also threatened Huntsville's business prospects. Local leaders don't want to lose economic development potential to other municipalities that have the connectivity employers need.
Since the 1950s, when the U.S. Army began developing missiles there, Hunstville has attracted a smart, science, tech focused work force. In order to keep their workforce and their intelligent reputation, fast, affordable, reliable connectivity is a must:
"We already know Huntsville is a place where people do cool things, smart things, things that change the world," said Mayor Battle. "A rocket city deserves rocket speed, and that means a network that connects to the Internet at 1 gigabit per second. Your Internet will be 50 to 100 times faster than it is today."