Google might motivate taxpayers to back FTTH

From a city’s perspective, Google Fiber’s new business model – lease existing wholesale fiber, light it up and sell retail service to subscriber-dense buildings – is both an opportunity and a problem. The opportunity is clear: rapid deployment of fast, cheap fiber to the home (and business) service for the lucky few that can get it.

And that’s also the problem. The lucky few part anyway, particularly if municipally-owned fiber is involved. One of the fundamental tenets of city government is that municipal services are available to everyone. Maybe not equally, maybe not totally – there are always exceptions – but at least in principle. There’s always been a distinction between services that are provided to businesses and those that are delivered to individual residents, but Google is blurring that line to the point of irrelevancy.

It’s usually not problem when a business – even a residential building owner – leases municipal fiber and uses it provide retail broadband services. The opportunity is available to any business, large or small, that wants to take advantage of it.

Google is different. It’s barely an exaggeration to say that the company and the brand touches everyone on the Internet and everyone who wants to be. If the reason your friend who lives in an apartment is getting FTTH service and you aren’t in your single family home a few blocks away is – as Google is sure to say – the city built fiber to your friend and not to you then you’re going to be pissed off about it.

Which might ultimately lead to the solution. Muni FTTH requires taxpayers to put skin in the game. Even in Santa Cruz, taxpayers are the ultimate guarantors even though a local company is taking the frontline risk. Google didn’t go that far in Provo or San Francisco, and it almost certainly isn’t in Huntsville. Google’s new business model leaves it up to local taxpayers to pay the capital cost of FTTH service. The very visible divide between those served by that business model and those who are not could be the motivation that makes taxpayers willing to do so.