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Thursday, February 18, 2010

S.F. 'Likely' to Enter Google's Fiber Network Sweepstakes

Posted By on Thu, Feb 18, 2010 at 1:11 PM

Google may be bringing a slightly more intense form of construction to San Francisco...
  • Google may be bringing a slightly more intense form of construction to San Francisco...
Google: It's a noun, a verb, and, soon enough, it'll be the Ryan Seacrest of a national contest determining which municipality wins a brand new ultra-high speed fiber network -- only with discernible talent.

The Bay Area-based search engine recently announced a plan to build a new fiber network in a yet-to-be decided community in order to demonstrate the feasibility of its new technology (the city is currently served by Comcast's hybrid fiber-coaxial cable network and AT&T's largely copper system). Mayor Gavin Newsom, incidentally, was enthusiastic about jumping into the Google sweepstakes, as he informed his Twitter followers (are you surprised?). Brian Roberts, the senior policy analyst for the city's Department of Technology may or may not have a Twitter account. But he's definitely read the paperwork. And at today's meeting of the city's Committee on Information Technology, Roberts announced San Francisco will "likely" soon fill out Google's forms and enter into the running for the new network.

That being said, San Francisco is a  hell of a place to visit -- but when it comes to billion-dollar corporations coming in and getting free reign to start tearing up the streets and making noise, this isn't the easiest municipality to work with. On one of Roberts' PowerPoint slides emphasized that Google was looking for a community with which it could start working "efficiently and quickly." Left unsaid at a meeting attended by representatives of just about every corner of city government is that the aforementioned description is not always the optimal one for San Francisco.

Or, to put it differently, there are cities where anyone with a fistful of dollars can sign some papers in the morning and begin tearing up the streets in the afternoon. That is not the case here. Roberts noted that Google has talked about "experimental construction" practices. Well, we don't exactly have an Experimental Construction Permit here.

"If Google is going to set this up as a contest for whoever makes it easiest for them, I don't know how we'll fare in that," admits Roberts.

On the other hand, Roberts said that San Francisco's rules and regulations might actually be a point in the city's favor. Google has expressed at least an ostensible desire that the city it works with not bend over backwards to accommodate it. If Google has to cross its t's and dot its i's, then the company would go a long way toward proving the feasibility of constructing fiber networks instead of the status quo.

One point against San Francisco, however, is it's too damn big. Google's guidelines called for a municipality of 50,000 to 500,000 residents (a city more like St. Louis, for example). So, rather than constructing a citywide network, Google's hypothetical San Francisco venture would be a neighborhood system. Roberts speculated that the southeast of the city -- the Excelsior or Bayview -- or portions of the Richmond and Sunset might be most applicable.

Finally, San Francisco would be unwilling for Google to build a system -- even for free -- and then own it privately. Roberts proposed an agreement, much like the one provided to City College, in which the city owns the actual physical system, but signs a long-term use agreement with Google.

When asked how much cost the city might incur, Roberts said it's too early to tell. That was also his answer when asked how much cost would be acceptable.

Photo (and Lego work)   |   Gayle Laakmann

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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