This Iowa Town Is Building An Open Access Fiber Broadband Network. Google Fiber Is Its First Customer

from the open-access-ftw dept

West Des Moines, Iowa this week announced that it would be building a massive, open access fiber network. The city is one of roughly 750 towns and cities that, frustrated by high prices, limited competition, and patchy availability of US broadband, have decided to instead build their own networks. Well, assuming that AT&T and Comcast haven’t bribed your state officials to pass laws banning such efforts yet.

West Des Moines’ new network will be funded by taxable General Obligation bonds with low interest rates. It’s too early to note what kind of speeds and prices will be on offer, but the city’s announcement indicates that Google Fiber will be one of its first customers:

“We couldn?t be more pleased to work with an outstanding company like Google Fiber to help make this happen,? Gaer said. ?Now more than ever, reliable high-speed internet is critical. It?s amazing that in just four years, West Des Moines is well on its way to achieving the WDM 2036 Plan goal of finding an innovative way to provide access to broadband for all our residents and businesses.”

It’s semi-ironic given that before Google Fiber launched, Google insisted its own network would be open access — before immediately conducting a 180 on the decision. According to the Des Moines Register, Google Fiber would pay the city $2.25 per month for each household that connects to the network, up to a maximum of $4.5 million over 20 years. Construction of the network begins this fall, and is estimated to last around two and a half years. When completed, West Des Moines will have better broadband than many tech-centric areas like Seattle or Silicon Valley.

In 2009, the FCC funded a Harvard study that concluded (pdf) that open access broadband networks (letting multiple ISPs come in and compete over a central, core network) resulted in lower broadband prices and better service. Of course when the FCC released its flimsy, politically timid “National Broadband Plan” back in 2010, this realization (not to mention an honest accounting of the sector’s limited competition) was nowhere to be found.

Such networks have driven notable broadband success in countries like Sweden. But here in America, both US political parties, awash in campaign cash from Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and others, have spent decades ignoring this data to instead embrace a singular telecom policy: kissing AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast’s collective ass. The result: the US remains mediocre in nearly every broadband metric that matters, and probably spends more time and resources denying this factual reality than actually addressing the problem.

Community broadband isn’t some one size fits all panacea. But such options are a helpful niche solution that not only result in better connectivity, but drive incumbents to try a little bit harder, an alien concept in a country where regulatory capture and a lack of competition have been the norm for the better part of thirty years.

Instead of acknowledging this reality, telecom incumbents like AT&T, and the think tankers, lobbyists, regulators, lawmakers, consultants, and academics paid to love them, have spent years attempting to demonize community broadband, insisting such efforts are a guaranteed taxpayer boondoggle, an ominous threat to free speech, and a long list of other bullshit claims. Many of these same folks can’t even acknowledge that US broadband isn’t competitive, and most love ignoring the fact that these towns and cities wouldn’t be considering the option if the private sector hadn’t failed them, repeatedly.

There remains a rather singular solution to incumbent ISPs and their dollar per holler allies who falsely deem such efforts to be wasteful or unfair: start offering better, faster, cheaper service. If you’re unwilling to do that, get the fuck out of the way.

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Comments on “This Iowa Town Is Building An Open Access Fiber Broadband Network. Google Fiber Is Its First Customer”

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Anonymous Coward says:

strange. no mention of the crap customer service, the diabolocle speeds or the never-ending excuses used to charge extra, either in overage fees or being forced to use the company’s modems, even when youve bought and are using your own!! definitely right about the ‘bought and paid for’ politicians though but they are so wrapped up in what they can get in payments from the ISPs, shaming them is a non-starter!!

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
MinchinWeb (profile) says:

Conduit, not Fibre

This is actually a "open access conduit network".

Google will install, and presumably own, miles of fibre plus the local exchange points. The advantage for Google is that they can’t get tied up in lawsuits over reusing anybody else’s poles (as they have in the past), but anyone looking to follow in Google footsteps in becoming an ISP is in for a multi-million dollar investment, rather than a few thousand dollars on a "true" open access network.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Conduit, not Fibre

It’s a difference worth noting, but "multi-million dollar investment" is likely to be overstating things. Yes, they’ll end up with that much equipment if "everyone" subscribes. But they can copy Google’s idea of "fiberhoods", and try to get a lot of pre-subscription on one point of presence before building it out. Of course, they can use term contracts or setup fees to recoup some equipment cost.

It’s a more difficult model for an ISP to work with. That’s not necessarily bad; in the dial-up era, some ISPs grew much more quickly than they could actually handle, and went bust or got bought out. Making them spend some more money up-front is, IMHO, an experiment worth running. It saves the town money, and means they don’t really need to deal with traffic management, "lawful access", and other politically contentious aspects. People such as Tim Wu and Dane Jasper have argued for similar models. Ottawa, Canada, evidently ran an experiment with customer-owned fibre in 2008, which seems to have gone nowhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Conduit, not Fibre

The problem with the duct model is that every ISP duplicates the fibres in the ducts. This can result in a lot of dark fibre, including fibre going dark as a new competitor takes customers away from the existing providers, by running their own fibre.

Effectively, this approach removes the problems of gaining access to the poles and ducts, but otherwise keeps the same inefficient duplication of infrastructure, and probably the occasional problem of no more duct capacity. Also, when a backhoe incident occurs, who gets to splice their fibres first?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Conduit, not Fibre

The problem with the duct model is that every ISP duplicates the fibres in the ducts.

Nothing stops an ISP from selling access to other ISPs. Who says it even has to be ISPs using the ducts? Someone could start a list-mile-network provider that runs a real open-access network with several ISPs.

I’m concerned about the same problems and don’t know whether they’ll really be solved, or whether the result will be better than other models. But as an experiment, it’s a 25000-household town, and if they’re actually going to collect and react to the data, it could be useful. And if Google has no real competition in a few years, none of this work is wasted: the town can buy the equipment to run a network in the existing ducts.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is important as it means other networks, can use the conduit. They pay a fee to use it , the fee pays for basic maintenance. It allows more competition in the market, eg someone can build a new network without using poles owned by Att or some old telecom corporation like Comcast.
Studys have shown open conduits enable more providers to build networks and they compete with each other or price or level of service.

ECA (profile) says:

Over the years..

It has been entertaining to watch the SLOW growth of the huge network and the Optimization, of this whole system..
When it started, PTLD, only had a 6% usage rate, the idea that at no time would more then ??, be using the system, so WHY improve it? And Im talking the Wired Phone system. then the internet hit, and everything went Boom…and they had to update/upgrade over 80%.

What i find Forward thinking is..
IF’ the states has looked abit forward and installed the Wireless Cellphone system themselves, and then the Upgraded to the Wired phone system Themselves, they could have leased the ISP connections to any corp, and controlled and TAXED them, and all the rest of us, would be happy and content.

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