Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Google Fiber pre-registration period closes

The pre-registration period for Google Fiber in Kansas City, which opened on 26th July 2012 (more here), ended on 9th September, with at least 180 out of 202 fiberhoods qualifying for service (more on fiberhoods and the pre-registration process here). On Thursday 13th September, Google will announce all the fiberhoods that have qualified for Google Fiber and the order in which they will be constructed - more here and here.

Google has been "amazed and humbled" by the response, according to the Google Fiber blog, which states that the fiberhoods which missed out in this round will have another chance to register next year:
"Together we’ve made good progress during this pre-registration period, but there’s still work to be done. Some fiberhoods won’t qualify this time around. If you live in one of those fiberhoods, we want you to know that we’ve heard your concerns. We will include you in a future rally sometime next year, when you can try to qualify for Fiber again."
Promoting digital literacy will continue to be a focus for the initiative:
"We’ve been truly inspired by, and have learned so much from, the efforts of local nonprofits, community centers, libraries, schools, and churches to pre-register their neighbors. And we want to continue working with these groups as they promote digital literacy throughout the community. So going forward, we aim to support great organizations in Kansas City in a programmatic and strategic way, through grants and joint educational efforts focused on digital literacy. Together we will work to equip Kansas Citians with the knowledge and tools they need to get online and use the web to their advantage for education, job hunting and more. We’ll have more details about this program soon."
Commentary from GigaOM here. Two days before the 9th September pre-registration deadline, Wired reported how the level of registration thus far reflected the different demographics within Kansas City: "most of the neighborhoods that have pre-registered enough households to qualify for the service lie on the city’s more affluent west side." The Wired article goes on to highlight that while Google didn't create the digital divide in Kansas City, its pre-registration approach to provisioning Internet access risks widening it.

In fairness, the final total of at least 180 out of 202 fiberhoods (almost 90%) was reached after the Wired article was published, with many fiberhoods reaching their targets in the last two days. This level of sign-up is very impressive, but how to reach the final 10%? If they didn't sign up this time, what's going to persuade them to do so in a second round? Clearly Google's digital literacy efforts are going to be crucial in this regard. ThinkBroadband have commentary on this here, with New York Times, Huffington Post and Ars Technica articles expressing similar concerns.

Another Ars Technica article questions the basis on which Google chose Kansas City for its fiber initiative, based on an analysis by Fred Campbell, Director of the Communications Liberty and Innovation Project, published by the Technology Liberation Front. While Campbell argues that Google Fiber demonstrates what can be achieved when regulations, fees and bureaucracy are waived, the Ars Technica article stresses the importance of transparency around the way Kansas City has effectively subsidised Google's deployment:
"If a city is going to spend public funds on a new broadband network, it has an obligation to ensure that taxpayers are getting a good deal for their money. That might mean insisting on conditions, such as build-out requirements or open-access rules, that will avoid the need for yet another taxpayer-subsidized network to be constructed in the future. But mis-characterizing a government-supported project as the result of unfettered free markets obscures the true costs of such projects, and makes informed debates over them more difficult."
Campbell states that "deregulatory policies fairly applied to all competitors are essential to meeting our nation’s shared goal of national broadband connectivity". He makes a number of very interesting observations about Google's initiative, which I'll return to in a future post.

The proof of the pudding will be in the success of Google Fiber in Kansas City and the extent to which Google or other players can replicate it successfully elsewhere. We'll just have to wait and see.

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