Image: Google

The Hidden Costs of Google Fiber

on Tuesday, Apr. 16th

Last week Google and the City of Austin, Texas announced that the home of SXSW would become the second city to be given the gift of Google Fiber, causing those already covetous of Austin’s weird cool, BBQ and breakfast tacos to have another reason to consider emigrating.

Google Fiber is the high-speed internet service that the internet giant has begun rolling out in Kansas City. The service promises connection speeds 100 times faster than conventional broadband at highly competitive prices.

Lost in all the hype–even TIME Magazine is making “five reasons you want Google Fiber in your city” lists– are considerations of the real costs of setting up a new layer of civic infrastructure.

Make no mistake: a project like Google Fiber, which involves laying new cables across miles and miles of developed land, is a massive undertaking. Other urban populations may be jealous of Kansas City and Austin for getting what seems like the perfect deal, but those cities will be bearing costs involved in the project even when the PR spin is that Google is picking up the tab.

Last year IGN’s Jon Fox took a look at the deal that Google struck with Kansas City, which beat out Austin for the right to be the first city to get connected.

The development agreement between Google and Kansas City stipulates that “Google will bear all costs for the [Fiber] project.” Yet it goes on to guarantee the company:

  • Free power
  • Free office space for Google employees
  • Expedited permits and inspections (with fees waived)
  • Free marketing, including direct mail
  • Free right-of-way easements (i.e. Google can build anywhere they want without compensating the city for noise or increased traffic)
  • The right to approve or reject any public statements the city makes about Fiber

Now, those weren’t preconditions for the agreement; Google may not have even suggested all of them. But the company did reject proposals from over a thousand other communities with more restrictive policies.

A KUT News report on the Austin announcement dug into the experience Kansas City has had with the physical infrastructure work.

Aaron Deacon works for the Bi-State Innovation Team that helped Google plug in to the Kansas City area. He says it was mildly disruptive.

“There has been some trenching and there has been some digging up of streets but that hasn’t been city cost, it’s been Google cost,” Deacon said.

Deacon says it might be a similar situation here. Google could also piggyback off of existing infrastructure through so-called “right-of-way” agreements.

Further on in the article the KUT team notes that the rollout of Fiber in Kansas City has been slow going.

When Google Fiber does roll into town, Austinites shouldn’t expect service right away. In the Kansas City area Deacon said that 90 percent of neighborhoods qualified, but out of the 202 neighborhoods in the area, only 10 are even on their way to Google service.

No one argues that faster internet service, particularly to underserved communities, isn’t a good thing. What is missing from the debate is what the real costs to our communities–not just our individual pocketbooks–will be.

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