Silicon Valley cities offer few concessions for Google Fiber

21 May 2014 by Steve Blum
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Five Silicon Valley cities made Google’s list of 34 fiber candidates, the only cities in California to do so. The deadline to complete the Google Fiber checklist was 1 May 2014. Each city responded, or not, in its own way.

Mountain View: Google’s home town likes the idea of fiber, but says it doesn’t review proposed construction plans as quickly or comprehensively as the company wants. Its solution is to hire more staff at Google’s expense. Putting equipment cabinets on streets would mean negotiating with local residents. The city council voted to move ahead on that basis, with some members threatening an even harder line down the road.

Palo Alto: The most enthusiastic and public facing response came from a city where publicly-funded fiber-to-the-premise has been under study for ten years (including two research reports that I did). Not only did Palo Alto give Google all the data it requested and agreed to nearly all of its terms (albeit by saying its current practice meets spec), it also posted it all on the city’s web site. Lots of good, geeky reading. I particularly enjoyed Pacific Telephone and Telegraph’s 1909 utility pole manual. Not much has changed in 100 years.

San Jose: Staff submitted a report to the city council saying it finished the checklist except, as in the other cities, for lease terms for fiber huts on public property. Apparently that’s a knotty problem in Silicon Valley, one that could yet be a deal killer. The city council has delayed discussion of the report until June. Reading between the lines, though, it appears that San Jose is telling Google that existing procedures are good enough, while setting aside $100,000 to offset extra internal costs.

Santa Clara: Not a public peep so far from Santa Clara, since a self-congratulatory press release back in February. If the city responded to the checklist, it was done quietly. So far, I haven’t found any indication it was ever discussed by the city council.

Sunnyvale: Up to a point, Sunnyvale staff thinks existing construction review and permitting practices are flexible enough to handle the project, but a report to the city council warns “Google does want to move faster than our current processes or staffing would allow”.

It’s hard to say if Silicon Valley cities are genuinely interested in making substantive changes to standard operating procedures in order to lure Google Fiber. Or whether any of them can. The responses were friendly enough to give the appearance of cooperation – politically necessary in Silicon Valley, where no one wants to be blamed for blocking a fiber upgrade – but, Palo Alto aside, lacked the specificity and enthusiasm of competitors like San Antonio. Barely better, in fact, than stroppy Portland.