Google Fiber Joins Municipal Broadband Network in Alabama

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Google Fiber is coming to Huntsville, Alabama but as part of a municipal broadband network and not as a standalone service provider. The set up is unique relative to other installations of Google Fiber and a refreshing bit of private sector support for public networks.

The Broadband Group in partnership with Huntsville Utilities will manage and own the municipal network. Google Fiber will help provide support to transmit ultra-fast broadband service.

For the past two years, The Broadband Group has led the engineering, financial modeling, and operational readiness plans for Huntsville Utilities. The two companies say that the model they are using is replicable in cities large and small. Entities such as Huntsville Utilities, requiring fiber networks for next generation service management, can lease excess bandwidth, advancing what has been, to date, an unachievable market for gigabit broadband services.

“Innovative planning comes in all sizes; next generation high-speed networks should not be limited only to the large Tier One cities in the United States,” said Tom Reiman, President of The Broadband Group. “The economics supporting mid-size city and community broadband investments has been challenged when funded on a stand alone basis; this model is transformative.”

Huntsville Utilities and The Broadband Group have also announced a continuing partnership where The Broadband Group will oversee the estimated three-year time frame to build and activate the network.

Google announced its role in a blog post yesterday, noting that they reached out to the city after it issued an RFP for fiber providers willing to work with their municipal model. “Like any infrastructure, such as roads or electric grids, a fiber network is a long-term investment that can benefit a city for decades,” the company said in the statement.

Not only is the set up unique for Google Fiber, it’s a strong use case for municipal networks in cities where traditional providers like Verizon or AT&T have argued that broadband services – especially gigabit service – are uneconomical. As DSL Reports has previously reported, in many cases even where those companies have set up or announced networks, they only exist in press releases. AT&T recently announced that its gigabit service will be coming to Huntsville but didn’t give a clear timeline.

In the interim, broadband advocates including the Fiber To the Home Council have voiced their support for the Huntsville project. “In fiber-fed communities, residents and businesses have access to a future-proof technology that is a platform for economic success and more liveable cities,” said Heather Burnett Gold, President and CEO of the Fiber to the Home Council Americas. “Early evidence suggests that communities with widely available gigabit services have a per capita GDP that is over 1 percent higher than similarly situated communities. We are excited by this model and look forward to working with more communities, companies, and leaders to find the best model for them to bring fiber home.”

The final step for the project happened this morning when the Huntsville Utilities Electric Board unanimously voted in support of the network. With this approval, Google Fiber could be powering the city as early as mid-2017. Huntsville will give Google a 20-year use rate, and individual consumer subscription rates will be left up to the company. The project is expected to cost local utilities $57 million.