San Antonio opens the gate for Google.
San Antonio has officially gone from being a “potential” Google Fiber city to an “upcoming” one. Google made the announcement yesterday in its blog…
Fast growing cities need Internet speeds that can keep up with their progress. For the 1.4 million residents of San Antonio, one of the biggest and fastest growing cities in the country, this is truer than ever. Which is why, today, we’re proud to announce that Google Fiber is coming to San Antonio—the largest Fiber city to date…
Soon, we’ll enter the design phase of building our fiber network in San Antonio. We’ll work closely with city leaders over the next several months to plan the layout of over 4,000 miles of fiber-optic cables—enough to stretch to Canada and back—across the metro area. This is no small task, and it will take some time, but we can’t wait to get started.
San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the U.S., according to CityMayors.com, with a population of 1.4 million within the city limits (don’t confuse city population with total metro area size – the Atlanta and Charlotte metros are both bigger and both Google Fiberhoods). The next biggest city on Google’s “current” fiber city list is Austin, just up I-35 and ranked 11th with 843,000 people.
It’s been a busy week for Google. It moved forward with Phoenix – even a bigger city and metro area than San Antonio – and expanded its Texas bootprint.
San Antonio was one of the fastest and most enthusiastic cities to embrace Google. The Public Utilities Commission of Texas trimmed the bureaucratic overhead to near zero. If you’re wondering why Google went to San Antonio and not your city (yet), look no further for an answer.
It seemed odd that San Antonio wasn’t on the list earlier this year when Google announced four new cities for its fiber to the home initiative. The city bent over backwards making Google welcome and it’s a short drive – less than a six pack, as they measure such things in Texas – from its current base in Austin.
Now it turns out that Google has been keeping its eye on the Alamo City. A story by Mark Reagan in the San Antonio Current says that Google asked for and quickly received permission to expand its fiber system from the Public Utility Commission of Texas. The story quotes a Google spokesman as saying…
San Antonio has been great to work with as we’ve explored bringing Google Fiber to the city, and this amendment to our state franchise is an important next step. There’s still a lot of work to do, but we hope to provide an update about whether we can bring Fiber to San Antonio soon.
If you’re still wondering why Google is showing more love to Texas than its home state of California, consider this: the application to expand its service area was filed with the Texas PUC on 21 May 2015 (not 5 June as reported in the Current article) and was approved three weeks later on 10 June 2015.
As someone who has done business with the California Public Utilities Commission, I gotta say the first thing I did was download the original documents and check to make sure the filing date wasn’t really 2014. Or 2013. I’ve worked on a couple of projects that involved getting this kind of certification in California, and it took two years, not three weeks.
There are times when California’s lengthy – some would argue thorough – review processes are valuable. The investigation into Comcast’s now defunct plan to acquire Charter and Time Warner systems here is a case in point. But most decisions are nowhere near as fraught and spending months and years following a byzantine process for routine matters only detracts from the CPUC’s – or other agencies’ – ability to pursue truly serious business.
All the possible pins are still in place.
Google will keep 34 cities – along with AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and the rest – guessing whether fiber-to-the-home is coming, at least until “the end of the year”. Last Thursday was the deadline for those communities to do their Google Fiber homework…
All of them have, for the most part, completed their checklists.
We say “for the most part” because there’s still a lot of work to do over the next few months. We’ll start by working with cities to tie up some checklist-related loose ends. For example, we worked with city staffers to draft agreements that would let us place fiber huts on city land; several city councils still need to approve these agreements. We may spend some time working together to figure out an ideal permitting process that would be fast and efficient.
Reading between the lines, it looks like Google’s best offer for master lease agreements is on the table and city councils will either take it or leave it. San Antonio took it – enthusiastically – and there doesn’t seem to be much push back elsewhere.
Permits are likelier to be tougher. Google wants a fully electronic and standardised process, with uniform specifications across all of its builds, not just within a particular city. There are two ways to get that: either a suitable system already exists in a city or political will is sufficient to overcome bureaucratic inertia, and do it in hurry.
By Californian standards, Santa Cruz County is moving at warp speed to streamline broadband construction permits and drop the average cost by two orders of magnitude. Even so, it’ll take more than a year to complete the process. Communities with nimby cultures – very common amongst the affluent areas Google prefers – will find meeting deadlines challenging, to say the least.
The color scheme is optional.
Santa Cruz County is moving closer to slashing red tape for broadband projects to the level urged by Google Fiber, in its talks with other cities in California and elsewhere in the U.S. That’s not to say that Google has any interest in putting a fiber system anywhere on California’s central coast. Nor that new broadband infrastructure rules are a done deal here. Not by a long shot. But it’s to the point where it’s more useful to compare Santa Cruz County to Google’s fast track than to the normal course of broadband construction in California.
Recently, the San Antonio city council rocketed through a master lease agreement with Google, the first step towards perhaps qualifying for its next round of fiber builds. At 6,400 words it’s five times longer than the template offered in Google Fiber’s City Checklist, but that’s largely because the average city attorney – hell, any attorney – loves to cover all the bases with as much verbiage as possible. Google’s representative at the meeting seemed to think it was a reasonable adaptation.
So how does the master lease template for telecoms equipment championed by Aptos supervisor Zach Friend and tentatively approved in January compare? Not too badly. The San Antonio lease was a targeted agreement to build fiber huts on city land, but the Santa Cruz draft is intended to cover a much broadband range of possibilities including attaching antennas to county owned towers and occupying space on county property. So the 9,200 words in the Santa Cruz document doesn’t seem far out of line.
There’s a major difference between the San Antonio and Santa Cruz master leases, though. The San Antonio lease allows Google to batch together paperwork and get pre-approval for all 40 of the fiber huts it plans to build, with exceptions specifically noted. There’s no such process contemplated in the Santa Cruz draft, which leaves it up to companies building broadband infrastructure to navigate through local permit, license and zoning rules, one at a time. That’s the sort of thing Google and AT&T have both said is a deal killer.
Solutions to that problem are on the table, though. Friend proposes to simplify that process by treating broadband facilities like any other utility project, subject only to relatively simple technical reviews rather than painfully drawn out zoning and design fights. And the City of Santa Cruz has pioneered an online system – OpenCounter – for streamlining all the other paperwork. Not as fast off the mark as Texas maybe, but so far more than enough to lead the California pack.
Oh, all right. You can have a press release too.
AT&T is about to get the same lease terms in San Antonio that Google got. On Thursday, the city council will look at a draft agreement that would give AT&T almost exactly the same access to city property to install fiber huts that it offered Google last month.
If you lay the Google fiber hut site master lease and the draft of the AT&T version alongside each other, they match word for word, except for the rental rates charged and a couple other minor details. The Google deal is a flat $2,250 per site, everywhere in the city. The rates for AT&T are more granular, varying according to the area of the city, in some cases lower than the Google price, in other cases higher. Doesn’t seem to be significant, likely more reflective of differences in the way the two companies do their budgets and construction plans than of the city’s attitude towards them.
Neither Google nor AT&T have committed to build or upgrade broadband infrastructure in San Antonio yet, though. The city is just one of 34 that Google is considering for its next round of fiber-to-the-home builds. And according to an interview AT&T’s staff lobbyist Renee Flores did with local radio station WOAI…
“We look forward to continuing our work with Mayor Castro on a master lease agreement which could facilitate AT&T’s continued expansion of our high speed internet in San Antonio,” Flores said.
Translation: we’re not promising a Uverse Gigapower upgrade or anything else of consequence in San Antonio. And no guarantees from AT&T elsewhere, except maybe to continue allowing Google to lead it around by the nose, finding cities that are ready to deal.
Open the gates. It’s Google.
Wasting no time in working through Google Fiber’s checklist, the San Antonio city council approved a master lease agreement yesterday that would give Google the right to build 40 or so fiber huts – 12 by 26 foot shelters for the electronic equipment that powers fiber-to-the-home systems – on city property at an annual lease rate of $2,250 per site.
“It will probably be difficult to overstate the importance of this vote – akin to turning on the lights in San Antonio” said councilman Ron Nirenberg. “We understand how our nation and communities across the world struggle with the digital divide, providing economic opportunities for people in the twenty-first century. This is one huge step forward for us as a city.”
A Google executive was on hand for the meeting, but wouldn’t say whether they planned to take the deal. San Antonio is one of 34 cities that made the cut in the latest round of the Google Fiber beauty contest. Besides friendly master lease terms, San Antonio has a couple other pluses: it’s a short Texas drive down I–35 from Austin, where Google already has plans to build, and there’s a municipal electric utility that owns 86% of the utility poles in town. AT&T owns the other 14%, according to a story in the San Antonio News Express.
The master lease language approved by the council isn’t quite as brief as the sample contract that Google published, but as city contracts go it’s positively terse. San Antonio’s fast and rapturous embrace is exactly the kind of response Google is trying to evoke with its fiber checklist. The bar has been set for the other 33 contenders.