By Tim McElgunn
Feb. 22 — Alphabet Inc.’s Google Fiber unit on Feb. 22 announced its first plans to deliver service over an open municipal fiber network, the latest of its approaches to deliver its 1 gigabit per second (1 Gbps) Internet access service in the markets it has entered to date.
The first phase of the fiber build out—slated to begin carrying traffic in mid-2017— is estimated to cost between $55 million and $60 million. To be built in Huntsville, Ala. by the city-owned electrical, gas and water utility, Huntsville Utilities, the network is planned to provide smart grid and other services for the utility and municipal government, with excess capacity available for lease to any qualified service provider. The city expects lease fees to offset some of the cost of the build out throughout the utility's service area.
Huntsville first issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) soliciting bids to build the network in early 2015. The mayor's office said at the time that, if no suitable proposals were tendered by private companies, the “city would explore a public entity like Huntsville utilities providing the infrastructure.” Criteria included extending the infrastructure to all areas of the city.
While a public entity is building out the fiber for Huntsville, the project is unlikely to face any regulatory or legislative pushback similar to opposition that has greeted plans to build and operate municipally-provided services in other communities around the country. That's because the city is designing an open network and will not offer retail Internet access or other services directly to city residents or businesses.
The utility hopes to extend the network into all areas of the city over the next four years. It says it intends to extend the open fiber network into surrounding communities in Madison County but has not provided a schedule for that expansion.
Google Fiber will compete with AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp. and cable overbuilder WOW in Huntsville and surrounding towns.
According to an FAQ published by AL.Com, final wholesale rates have not yet been finalized by the city and Huntsville Utilities. Even so, Google Fiber has committed to deploy its gigabit service in Huntsville, despite the lack of a final rate structure.
According to a Google Fiber blog post, “Pending final approvals, Huntsville Utilities will design and construct its network. Once the network is built, Google Fiber — or any other broadband provider — will be able to bring high speed Internet service to the city.”
In the post, Google Fiber highlights the large concentration of technical professionals and technology companies in the Huntsville area, which is home to a large aerospace industry.
Google has delivered services over fiber built by other providers elsewhere—notably in Provo, Utah, where it bought an existing municipal network, and in Atlanta, where it is using leased fiber to deliver services to a limited number of locations in advance of completing its own fiber construction projects elsewhere in the metropolitan area.
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