Just a few days ago I wrote about the new digital divide. That being the fact that larger and more prosperous places have, or are getting faster broadband while smaller and poorer places are being left behind.
And on the heels of that blog, Google just announced that it has invited talks with 34 new cities to discuss the expansion of its gigabit network. And of course, these are all big places and/or prosperous and growing places including Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe in Arizona, Atlanta and surrounding suburbs in Georgia, San Antonio in Texas, Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte and surrounding suburbs in North Carolina, Nashville in Tennessee, San Jose and other growing areas in northern California, Salt Lake City and Portland.
This is great news for those communities. There is certainly no assurance that any of them are going to get fiber and Google will be looking for the places willing to give the biggest handouts. But one would think that a decent number of the cities on that list will be able to give Google what they want to get a fiber network.
But not on this list, as you would expect are smaller towns and counties or the inner cities in the east that were ignored by Verizon FiOS. For the most part the Google list represents communities that are relatively economically healthy. The cities on the list are the ones that are growing while much of the rest of the country, like the northeast and smaller towns are shrinking.
In this same week the FCC said that they are going to look at eliminating the state barriers that stop municipalities from building fiber networks. There are over twenty states that have either a total ban or severe restrictions on government entities getting into the fiber business.
Let’s face facts. If you are not one of those places that are thriving, like the places on Google’s new list, then the chances are big that nobody is even thinking about building fiber in your neighborhood. You might live close to an independent telephone company or cooperative that is thinking about it. But most of rural America is not on anybody’s radar.
I always tell rural communities to consider two steps. First, you need to look around just to make sure that there is no company nearby who can be enticed to bring you fiber. Because sometimes, with the right incentives there is somebody. But generally there is nobody willing to make such an investment, so the second part of the advice is, if you want fiber you are going to have to step up and build it yourself.
You may need to gather surrounding communities together to get a pile of households large enough to justify a fiber business plan. But your community needs to take the initiative to get fiber or you are going to be left far behind.
Some of the communities Google is targeting were edging towards the wrong side of the new digital divide. I just read this morning that a large portion of Salt Lake City, as an example, still has 3 Mbps DSL for broadband. But they are large enough and thriving enough to have gotten Google’s attention, and good for them. But if you are a rural county seat or a farming community you are not going to get on Google’s or anybody else’s list.