Google’s Gonna Do what!?

Yesterday morning I was going to write about my new book I released, Fighting the Next Good Fight: Bringing true broadband to your community. Then the Google news about them jumping into the fiber-to-the-home business hit early on, and the rest of the day was spent talking to people wanting to know what it all meant. More to write about.

As the night eases into the a.m. hours, I figure I’ll cover both in one post. My book methodically lays out steps you should follow to effectively plan for a financially sustainable broadband network (see Table of Contents). And here comes Google with a bold proclamation to take action that happens to reflect many of the lessons presented in the book. Serendipity is a beautiful thing.

Is seeing believable?

The most common question I heard was, is this a real move by Google to become a broadband player, or just a feint, a jab-and-move kind of deal similar to Google’s efforts in muni wireless in 2006, or their play for spectrum soon after this. Because Google’s long-term fortunes are buoyed by there being blazing fast broadband everywhere possible, I don’t count out its extended involvement in these projects.

First, Google has the market clout and bankroll to be taken seriously, and so there will be a spotlight on Google’s broadband actions as long as they pursue them, subsequently giving the company the mantle of a leader in the space. It could become a long lasting distinction if, as one of their product managers expressed in a GigaOm interview, the company takes the learning from this test bed to the world. I have to believe this is good for some of Google’s other businesses. It’s a great deal, with a caveat or two, for the rest of us.

By getting an extensive feel for fiber deployment, they’ll get a better sense of where the economic value to Google lies. Galen Updike, Telecommunications Development Manager at the State of Arizona’s Government Information Technology Agency (GITA), recently made an interesting point. It’s darn near impossible for private sector companies to financially benefit from broadband’s economic development benefits to communities. That means someone has to do some serious eyes-wide-open examination of this nut to figure out how to crack it. However, there’s serious upside to being the nutcracker.  

I’m not sure Google will be an actual service provider even during some initial pilot projects, and Harold Feld’s column expands on this conclusion. But they could provide investments and strategic relationships to those entities that become the actual network builders and service providers.

In the end, these deals could work out very well for Google. And frankly, they work out best for consumers and businesses too because you don’t want your content provider and your access provider to be one and the same. That’s what leads to monopoly and duopoly strangleholds on markets, and goes to the core of why many of us are fighting for net neutrality.

By the book

As I mentioned, a number of elements of what Google proposes to do tracks well with lessons presented in my book. Here are some examples.

Vision: don’t leave home without it. Google, love ‘em or hate ‘em, is throwing down the gauntlet to visionary thinking. They’re saying let’s build a network or two delivering serious speed measured in the hundreds of megabits, then put them under microscopes to see if it can be done (profitably), and what can be done with it, nationwide. Let’s get a real-world peak at the future: what are solutions, business models, creative business strategies, etc. that can push every boundary and hot button. 

For too long the vision for broadband has been dominated or stymied by incumbents who, as I said in my NPR interview, don’t lead, can’t follow, and won’t get out of the way. Do open networks and net neutrality stifle vision and innovation? Well, we’ll sure find out, won’t we? Will the FCC’s broadband vision be elevated just a little higher by Google’s actions? Probably.  

Know your stakeholders, know their needs. Google dropped the hammer on the typical practice of starting technology policy discussions that affect average Americans by visiting with captains of industry and their lobbyists. Google is seeking feedback first from local governments of cities, counties and states, the folks who own the broadband challenges, the entities that incumbents insist on trying to remove from the problem-solving process.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know how much value I put on this. With Google making such a public to-do about getting deep into a community’s business, as it were, others hopefully will be motivated to do the same.

Grab your partner, dosey doe. It should become evident as these Google projects move forward that local government is a full-on partner in the broadband process. NTIA/RUS’ stimulus grant rules gave government-driven partnerships for broadband momentum, and now these should really accelerate through Google’s action. The company also encourages local governments to persuade community stakeholders to submit supporting RFIs. If there are still communities that haven’t learned this lesson, Google should remove all doubt. Local partnerships matter. A lot.

Determining the will of We the People. Google appears to have a strong desire get people actively engaged on the network, which also means lots of community involvement in the planning process. I cannot emphasize enough that it is impossible to get the quality and speed of broadband that communities need to impact economic development, telemedicine, etc. unless and until you go into communities to assess their needs, available tech resources, specific challenges and so forth. That’s how you do the effective needs assessment required to deliver the best broadband solutions.           

There’s a lot more to say about Google as a playa in the fiber world, and much more will be said. But this gives you a couple of perspectives on what all the noise is about. One big question is, should your community jump on the invite to be among the selected Google test beds? Oh, hell yeah!

“This is a terrific development on multiple levels,” states Jim Baller of Baller Herbst Law Group who worked with Google on this initiative. “I hope that communities across the UnitedStates will respond enthusiastically.” 

If Google selects you, you win. If they don’t, you still win because the process of crystalizing your thoughts for an RFI will likely get a lot of wheels turning in the community that lead to a strong broadband initiative even without Google’s assistance. And for those of you in the midst of NOFA madness, you’ve already done the work, so just take the data from your NOFA app, configure it for an RFI and throw your hat in the ring.

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