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September 28, 2011

Google Finds Nothing is Shovel Ready, Not Even for Free Fiber Build

"Regulation can get in the way of innovation. Regulations tied to physical infrastructure sometimes defer the investment altogether." – Kevin Lo, head of access at Google, as quoted in Total Telecom.

Google is deploying fiber at its own expense in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri to demonstrate the value of one gigabit (a gigabit is a billion bits – a lot) per second residential Internet connections and perhaps to show at&t and Verizon and the cable companies how the search giant might fight back if its growth is restricted by their restrictions or limitations. Thousands of communities competed for this bonanza including the whole State of Vermont (see the video here). Kansas City, KS won and Kansas City, MO was added later. Among the selection criteria was the ability of the community, if chosen, to move at Google speed.

Whoops. Google just learned the same lesson that President Obama learned in Stimulus 1: nothing in America is shovel ready. Even when a rich company is willing to spend its own money on a project which almost everyone agrees is of huge economic benefit (spelled J-O-B-S), red tape and entrenched interests get in the way.

Google's Lo says that local governments should be given more power to decide where they enforce zoning regulations. The implication is that Google's deployment ran afoul of zoning ordinances and that variances were not easy to come by, perhaps even in cases where the impact is de minimis. Usually all it takes is one person objecting and the hearings can go on almost forever.

Google is also having trouble getting pole attachment rights quickly. The article doesn't say whom the poles belong to, but it's highly likely that either the phone company or electric utility (or both together) owns them. Usually, since poles tend to be in the right of way and are owned by regulated utilities, there are laws which do require allowing qualified use of them. However, poles do have to be inspected before additional load can be put on them; some poles will always need to be replaced. Electric utilities may not give high priority to Google's project; the local telco may not be in any hurry to see such a fearsome broadband competitor deployed. So actually getting the pole attachments can take a long time.

And Google says that it cannot easily acquire rights of way.

These are local issues; when federal dollars are spent or federal regulation of some kind invoked, the gates a project has to go through are even more onerous and time-consuming. That's why almost no stimulus dollars were spent for construction except for repaving. That's why another stimulus will NOT result in the kind of infrastructure investment America needs; we might have to spend dollars repaving the same roads we did last time.

But many American companies – not just Google – are cash rich. Many American companies have projects ready to go but are waiting for permitting and the inevitable endless appeals. We can have a private construction boom without spending a borrowed dollar of government money if we can reform permitting so that it takes a reasonable and predictable amount of time and if we can circumscribe the ability of appellants to hold virtually any project up for an indefinite period at no cost or risk to themselves.

One sour grape: Here in Vermont we have enlightened pole attachment rules which assure speedy deployment and we have given local authorities the ability to waive hearings for some telecom projects with de minimis impact. I'm sure we would've moved at Google speed; wish we'd been put to the test.

Related posts:

Irene Lesson #2: Nothing in America is Shovel Ready – Until It Has to Be

Jobs Rx: Make America Shovel Ready

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