Anyone, that calls Silicon Valley “Home”, soon learns high speed Internet choices are limited and costly.
Many areas have no high-speed Internet available. Or, service is limited to one provider that has a lock on a service area.
Of course, these conditions impact the quality of service provided and pricing for Internet access.
Did you know, Internet consumers in the USA have slower Internet speeds and pay higher pricing then most major cities in the world (The Cost of Connectivity 2014, Data and analysis on broadband offerings in 24 cities across the world)?
Voters have demanded improve infrastructure and more choice.
In 2015, Santa Cruz announced a partnership to deliver gigabit fiber to city locals with the help of a local ISP by the name of Cruzio. The $45 million project, which will take years to fully complete, will not be funded by taxes, but through bonds. The effort was, like so many before it, driven by dissatisfaction with the broadband services being provided to locals by incumbent ISPs AT&T and Comcast.
The Central Coast Broadband Consortium, using PUC data, ranked Santa Cruz a “D” grade for broadband availability. The city also ranks 447 out of 505 California cities for average Internet speed, according to data compiled by Guevara.
Cruzio and the city hopes to fix that by delivering gigabit connections to every home and business in the city. According to a company announcement, Cruzio and the city started installing fiber infrastructure in Jul 2016, with plans to provide service to 1,000 initial homes this fall.
“The best way to demonstrate how successful this network can be is to build it,” said Cruzio’s Chief Technology Officer and co-founder, Chris Neklason. “The City Council and staff have been fantastically encouraging and we decided the time was right to take that encouragement and put it into action.”
Cruzio proceeds to note they’re aiming for a $50 per month price point for its gigabit service, much faster and cheaper than regional incumbents.
Google Fiber in Silicon Valley
For over two years, a number of Cities have worked together to bring Google Fiber to Silicon Valley.
It’s not official yet, but Google Fiber coming to San Jose is as close to a sure thing that you can get”.
On May 24th, the San Jose city council unanimously approved Google Fiber’s construction impact mitigation plan, which outlines how the company will install 2,300 miles of residential fiber throughout the city as well as plans to minimize the impact of lane closures and other disruptions. Google Fiber, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, still has to officially decide to undertake the project in San Jose.
David Vossbrink, the city’s director of communications, said Google Fiber has been in touch with city officials and indicated they will make an announcement “in the very near future.” Vossbrink described the May 24th approval as an “implementation decision”. He pointed to the December 2015, council decision to grant the project a master encroachment permit and CEQA clearance as a policy decision that was the most important step taken in process so far.
San Jose approved two of nine Fiber Huts on Santa Teresa Boulevard and Bird Avenue. Google is expected to construct six more on city-owned sites, including on Hellyer Avenue, Blossom Hill Road and near the Los Lagos Golf Course. It will work with a private landowner to build the seventh one. Each Fiber Hut will connect 40,000 households and take five months to complete.
Google peeling the onion of red tape
An array of laws gives telecommunications companies and cable-TV firms the right to use publicly and privately owned utility poles, typically with per-pole fees.
Google is presenting its case before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for the right to use public and private utility poles when necessary to avoid burying fiber cables when possible.
Google and AT&T have a 2014 agreement that allows the Internet giant to access AT&T poles anywhere in the U.S., and has specific licensing agreements covering Palo Alto, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and Mountain View, said AT&T spokesperson Dan Conway.
AT&T and the cable TV association representing Comcast and Time Warner Cable have told state regulators that Google has no such right. AT&T has argued before state regulators that Google isn’t a cable-TV company. Time Warner Cable declined to comment on the pole conflict.
Google sells a TV-Internet Google Fiber package and claims status as a cable TV company. The CPUC agrees.
“Google is providing video to subscribers for a fee over wires. Therefore, Google is operating as a cable television corporation”, commission spokesperson Constance Gordon said.
The California Cable & Telecommunications Association which represents Comcast and Time Warner Cable, says the commission’s analysis falls short. “While the CPUC has reviewed the definition of a cable television corporation under state law, it did not consider whether Google Fiber complies with the federal Cable Act”.
AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner block access to utility poles
Google contends a group that controls many Bay Area utility poles includes Google competitors as members, is blocking access to poles.
In San Francisco, the only California city where Google has committed to providing blazing fast Internet, the company will lease a small fiber network, eliminating the pole problem.
In five other Silicon Valley cities pole access appears secure in Palo Alto and Santa Clara but San Jose, Mountain View and Sunnyvale appears problematic.
While Google has cut deals with AT&T and more recently with PG&E for pole access, the company has been unable to secure poles in many areas because the poles it needs are controlled by the Northern California Joint Pole Association.
The Northern California Joint Pole Association has refused to grant membership to Google and membership is required for access to the group’s poles. Among the association’s members are AT&T and Comcast.
In San Jose, where Google and city officials are actively planning for citywide fiber rollout, the pole association controls most utility poles and only members can access those, according to Michael Liw, the city’s deputy director of public works.
Sunnyvale and Google have signed a preliminary agreement on Google Fiber service. However, the pole association owns the majority of utility poles in Sunnyvale, according to city documents and the issue of access has not been resolved.
In Mountain View, nearly all poles are owned by PG&E, or shared between PG&E and a communications company. “While our agreement with Google provides access to PG&E poles, we have discussed with Google it needs to contact the communications utility for access to jointly owned poles,” said PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian.
In Palo Alto, the pole association controls only 5 percent of the utility poles. Some 90 percent are jointly owned by the city and AT&T. “No problems to report,” city spokesperson Catherine Elvert said, regarding the city’s work with the two companies on Google Fiber pole access. The council may act on a plan this year, she said.
Santa Clara controls nearly all its utility poles. Google has completed most of the preliminary work needed before deciding whether it will commit to providing Google Fiber in Santa Clara, said Larry Owens, customer services manager for the city’s utility, Silicon Valley Power.
San Jose leaders and Google Fiber released a three-year plan to begin trenching streets in nearly every neighborhood to install fiber cables. The project will make gigabit Internet available to nearly 100 percent of city residents. Google is privately funding the $1 billion-plus project.
Cost of Service
Google Fiber spokesperson Jenna Wandres said pricing plans for San Jose haven’t been finalized, but provided prices from Google Fiber cities in the Southeastern United States: $130 per month for one gigabit per second Internet and television service, $70 for gigabit Internet only, and $50 a month for 100 megabits per second Internet service. She also said that the company is exploring programs to offer Internet service at “much cheaper” rates for citizens in the “most digitally divided areas” of the city.
Google Fiber is offered in Kansas City, Atlanta, Nashville, Austin and Provo according to the Googles website. Google Fiber also has a limited deployment in San Francisco. San Jose would be the first city in California to be completely connected with Google Fiber.
In Atlanta where Google Fiber & Comcast compete for Internet consumers, Comcast is beta testing gigabit cable Internet using Docsis 3.1 modems. While this service doesn’t yet match Google Fiber’s gigabit upload speed, it is wonderful to see Comcast improving Internet service and attempting to compete at a price point that matches Google pricing with a 3-year service contract.
AT&T launched GigaPower in Cupertino. The AT&T beta offering provides Internet speeds up to 1 Gbps for $110 a month, or 300Mbps for $80 a month. In Kansas City and Austin, cities that offer Google Fiber, AT&T matches Google Fiber pricing of $70 a month for 1 Gbps.
AT&T’s has slashed its fixed-line CAPEX each quarter. This cost cutting makes it difficult to fund large fiber deployment in the USA. Given this, AT&T GigaPower has been limited to development areas where fiber is already in the ground.
AT&T has used a small number of fiber deployments as a carrot on a stick for regulators, threatening to pull back on these small investments if regulators don’t support AT&T.
In locations with AT&T GigaPower, a serious precedent is being set. To receive the 1 Gbps offering for $70 a month, customer agrees to opt-in to AT&T’s “Gigapower Internet Preferences” program, What?
AT&T, Comcast Utility Pole Feud Slows Google Fiber in Nashville
Google Fiber is preparing for another standoff, this time in Nashville, against incumbent ISPs unhappy with the threat of added competition. AT&T sued the city of Louisville for its decision to pass “one touch make ready” utility pole attachment rules. Such rules allow an insured, agreed upon third-party contractor move any ISPs’ gear on the pole, dramatically reducing the time it takes to get fiber deployed. Google supports such an idea and incumbent ISPs, for obvious reasons, do not.
With Google Fiber’s deployment in Louisville on hold, the same argument is starting to unfold in Nashville, the city began considering similar rules in Jul 2016.
While the rules benefit everybody, incumbent ISPs have no need for such rules, since they often control pole access and have networks in place. ISPs have been accused of using legal actions to block competitors with bureaucratic red tape.
To stop rules streamlining, large ISPs have argued that rules violate ISPs’ Constitutional rights. In Nashville, both AT&T and Comcast are fighting reform, claiming they’re just looking out for unions.
“While we have not seen the proposed ordinance, we are concerned that a make-ready ordinance would interfere with our contractual commitment to have our skilled employees represented by the Communications Workers of America perform make-ready work on our behalf,” says AT&T Tennessee spokesperson Joe Burgan.
“Beyond that, we have serious concerns with other companies being allowed to perform work on our facilities without providing us notice, which could put service reliability and public safety at risk in some circumstances,” AT&T added. “Additionally, jurisdiction to regulate pole attachments rests with the FCC, and municipalities have no authority under federal or state law to enact the ordinance being proposed here.”
“We were the first provider to work with Google Fiber to grant them access to AT&T utility poles,” AT&T says. “We already have a national agreement with Google to give them access on a city-by-city basis. We’re glad to grant them access to our poles like we have for others, but Google attempting to change the rules for their benefit is ridiculous.”
Comcast has asked that additional study be undertaken.
“We believe that the appropriate next step would be to conduct a meeting of the stakeholders including AT&T, Comcast, Google Fiber, NES and Public Works to review the make-ready and permit process and discuss areas for improvement,” says Sara Jo Walker, a Southern regional spokesperson for Comcast. “This should be accomplished prior to any proposed legislation.”
Google Fiber states updated pole regulations will help deploy competition more quickly and safely.
“By embracing a one-touch make ready policy, Nashville is taking a significant step to bringing faster, better broadband to its residents,” says Amol Naik, Google Fiber’s Southeast region head of public policy. “Such policies can simplify and expedite a big infrastructure effort like Google Fiber, reducing community disruption and promoting public safety.”
According to Charter, Google Fiber’s deal with Louisville is more lenient than the one Charter struck with the city years ago. That’s in large part because Google Fiber simply asked for a better deal, and with the city eager to have a company actually interested in quickly deploying next-gen broadband was happy to oblige. In most of these instances the incumbent ISP could have netted the same deal, they just didn’t ask.
Charter’s focus has been on acquiring Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, but has yet to join ISPs like Google Fiber in offering ultra-fast gigabit connections. Like other incumbent ISPs, it has spent the better part of a generation trying to make life difficult for broadband and TV competitors. That’s why claims of suddenly being treated unfairly tend not to resonate particularly well.
Send us your comments
Do existing ISPs have a monopoly that is stalling innovation, hurting competition and inflating the cost of service?
Should cities award sole provider contracts to public infrastructure and sales territories?
Have you noticed your Internet Service Providers generating red tape and taking legal actions against competitors?
Should cities have control over their utility poles?