Stirring the Pot

First published in Blandin Foundation’s eNews

Several folks from Google were on the agenda at last week’s NATOA conference. I have to say that the more I heard from the Googlers, the less I liked them! Smugness filled the room whenever Google was talking. We learned that Google people are really smart. And that they work really fast. And that their new network will be the model of best practices despite never having built a network before. And that they are really, really smart.

All of which may be true. On the other hand, one Googler stated that satellite broadband was “good enough” for rural consumers, so maybe not so smart after all. That remark brought boos and hisses from my corner of the room.

Another Google representative bragged aggressively about Google Speed – which describes their fast pace of action at Google. Based on their implementation so far, I am skeptical. Google announced their community fiber project in February 2010 and took more than a year to announce Kansas City, Kansas as their partner. Seven months after the announcement, they have yet to break ground. NTIA and RUS and hundreds of project partners around the country are moving at least as fast in a much more complex financial, legal and regulatory environment.

Regulation and permitting was a point of emphasis for Google. Interestingly, Google estimates that they can save 3 – 5% of fiber network construction costs by working with the local government to efficiently permit and inspect the project. They did not give much detail on how the savings might be accomplished or whether Google’s savings are simply costs transferred to Kansas City. Google emphasized Kansas City’s single layer of regulation as a key factor in their selection. Heads seemed to be nodding in agreement around the room.

This contrasted to an earlier discussion at the conference over the wireless industry’s complaints about tower siting and permitting processes. The industry’s testimony to the FCC brought howls of protests from local representatives. “We are not the problem” was the consensus of the attendees. Considering the importance of broadband deployment to communities, I do wonder about the minimum goal of the regulators and whether their goal should move from “not the problem” to “infrastructure investment enabler”. When Google came a calling, we all jumped as high and as fast as possible. I wonder how we treat our local providers.

Speed and ease of implementation can be a competitive advantage. Clearly, Google considers it to be an important factor in its business. How does it work in your community?