ISPs and real estate developers should tango in public

by Steve Blum • , ,

It’s more fun when people watch.

Installing modern broadband infrastructure in newly built housing developments often involves a dance between developers, who increasingly want reimbursement for what they believe to be the full cost, and service providers, who want it as cheap as possible and might not be very interested in the first place.

It’s usually a private negotiation, with the results becoming apparent only after people start moving in. In Gonzales, California for example (full disclosure: the City of Gonzales is a client of mine) new housing developments have been left with conduit installed for cable broadband service but never used. In more affluent, nearby communities, on the other hand, fiber is routinely run directly to new homes.

Cities (and counties in unincorporated areas) have some control over what gets built, but not necessarily how it’s eventually used. The City of Brentwood, in Contra Costa County, requires new homes to be connected to two separate conduit systems, one that’s intended for cable service and the other that’s deeded over to the city. Brentwood put its municipal conduit to good use by cutting a deal with an independent Internet service provider, Sonic.net, to install a fiber to the home system. But it had the advantage of a 15 year head start that resulted in the construction of a critical mass of fiber ready homes.

For smaller – and more typical – developments, it’s a different story. Local governments can’t require telecoms companies to disclose their intentions to prospective buyers.

When regulations are necessary, there are good arguments for uniformity: the Internet can’t operate on the basis of patchwork, local rules. But open access to information and published standards are also fundamental Internet principles. Service providers’ and developers’ terms and intentions should have the same level of public visibility as that required of construction plans.