Remember UTOPIA? No, not that one, I mean the municipal FTTH project in Utah with 16 cities combining their efforts to bring fiber connections to their residents in defiance of their local ILECs. There have been many bumps in the road of course, but they are still out there and now they are making a bid to become one of Google’s lucky chosen ones. In doing so, they remind us that this 1Gbps to the home song has been sung before, it is only new this month because Google is the one singing it. So why start fresh when there is ready-made infrastructure to get behind and communities already primed to hook up to it?
The benefits are obvious. Google’s business doesn’t really include the feet on the ground for laying fiber on this scale or the business processes to make it happen. Such projects aren’t easy – else everyone would be doing them. If Google were to get behind or even take over a project like Utopia then the project would have an almost immediate impact rather than a theoretical one that remains far down the road. Costs would be reduced, time to market would be shortened, and we wouldn’t have to spend the next few quarters arguing about which of 20,000 communities is the right one.
But then again, the UTOPIA network infrastructure may not be precisely what Google has in mind. They very well may have a different design in mind and want to start with a clean slate to get it right. Or, perhaps more likely, it is the public process of choosing the community that Google is really after here. If this is mainly a PR move designed to manipulate both the regulators, pressure last mile providers, and generally mobilize the public behind open access, high bandwidth connections, then the very worst thing they could do would be to settle down too early and start building. Because then the story becomes about waiting for them to finish, and it doesn’t matter how quickly they work it won’t be quick enough to satisfy the media’s need for instant gratification.
I suspect that Google won’t choose UTOPIA for that reason, or if they do it will be after a long and unnecessarily complex public deliberation. Hmm, maybe that’s the path to look for here: draw out the process, and then pick the partially built infrastructure so the construction time is shortened.
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