Google brings flicker of hope to Palo Alto's fiber dream

City is one of 34 selected by Internet giant for a possible citywide fiber system

After failing in its initial bid to win Google Fiber and deliver high-speed Internet to the city's masses, Palo Alto is now getting another chance.

The Mountain View-based Internet search giant has invited 34 cities, including San Jose and Palo Alto, to work with Google on setting up citywide fiber-optics systems of the very sort that local officials have been coveting for the past two decades. The 34 cities are scattered all over the country and include Portland, Ore.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Atlanta, Ga.

If Palo Alto chooses to participate, this would not be its first attempt at working with Google to create a citywide system capable of delivering Internet at the speed of 1 gigabit-per-second (today, the average speed for Internet connection is 9.8 megabits per second, according to the city). In 2011, the city was one of many to vie for Google Fiber, only to see the prize go to Kansas City, Kan. This was just the latest setback for a long-deferred project known locally as "Fiber to the Premise." In 2009, the council was negotiating with a consortium of Internet companies that offered to expand the city's 41-mile fiber ring. That deal collapsed amidst the economic downturn when funding dried up and the consortium asked the city for more funding.

Last year, the council signaled its determination to implement a fiber program by selecting "Technology and the Connected City" as one of the city's top priorities. Earlier this month, the council agreed unanimously to carry over this priority for another year. To underscore their commitment to making the fiber dream a reality, the council unanimously agreed last October to pursue master plans for fiber and WiFi systems. At that meeting, Councilman Larry Klein voiced enthusiasm about fiber's potential, saying "this is is where the world is going and if we want to continue to be the leader in innovation, we need to be there as well." It helped that the city's "dark fiber" reserve, which collects fees from commercial customers who use the network, had a balance of more than $15 million last summer.

In its announcement, Google invited the 34 cities to submit checklists that would help the company speed up the process of hooking up customers ultra-fast Internet. The company noted that the web has gotten both faster and more useful in recent years, with "activities like streaming movies, storing files online, video chatting and more" enabled by broadband connections over a decade ago. The next chapter of the web, Google says, "will run on even faster speeds."

"There continues to be huge interest from consumers and communities in faster broadband," the Google announcement states. "That's why we want to bring more people access to Google Fiber -- Internet that's up to 100 times faster than basic broadband." The company said it selected these 34 cities because they are "led by people who have been working hard to bring faster Internet speeds and the latest technologies to their residents."

"We believe these are communities who will do amazing things with a gig," the Google announcement states. "And they are diverse -- not just geographically, but in the ways they'll give us opportunities to learn about the wide range of challenges and obstacles that communities might face in trying to build a new fiber network."

The announcement was greeted with excitement in Palo Alto, where officials met with Google representatives last week to discuss the new initiative. Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental told the Weekly that the city will submit the checklist that Google requested. The list has to include information about the city's utilities infrastructure (including locations of utility poles, conduits and water lines) and assurances that the city's permitting process can accommodate a project of such magnitude.

Reichental noted that because the city operates its own utilities and because it had already put together the application for Google Fiber in 2011, the process won't be too onerous. The 34 cities have until May 1 to submit the checklists, a deadline that Reichental said the city should be able to meet with no difficulty.

He also said the city's decision to participate in the new Google effort does not in any way conflict with the existing effort to create a master plan for a citywide fiber system.

"We're happy to encourage all sorts of players," Reichental said. "It's a free market and in Palo Alto, the end game is to have one or more options for competitive gigabit provisions in the city."

Reichental also said it's important to continue to pursue the master plan approved by the council, Google's latest venture notwithstanding.

"At the end of the day, we want to look out for our interests and make sure that if it doesn't work out, if they don't deploy in Palo Alto, that we still have our plans to come up with a solution to bring fiber to the community."

After Google receives checklists and completes studies for each of the interested cities, it will make an announcement on which cities will be the next to get Google Fiber. The company plans to announce its selections by the end of 2014. In addition to Kansas City, Google also has ongoing fiber projects in place in Provo, Utah, and Austin, Texas.

"While we'd love to bring Fiber to every one of these cities, it might not work out for everyone," Google's announcement stated. "Cities who have worked with us through this process, however, will have taken a big step forward in making their community ready for construction by any provider."

In a statement, City Manager James Keene said the city is "pleased to accept Google's invitation to participate in this new phase of assessing how to bring 1 gigabit fiber to more communities."

"Our collaboration will complement the open market approach our City Council has directed us to pursue to bring fiber to the premise in Palo Alto," Keene said. "Google's invitation will advance our ability to achieve this goal."

Kevin Lo, general manager for Google Fiber, also said the company looks forward to "working with Palo Alto in the coming months to see if we can build the next chapter of the Internet together, on gigabit speeds."


Posted by anon, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 19, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Is there any downside to this? It's about time Palo Alto gets fiber to every home.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 19, 2014 at 2:33 pm

There is no downside - this would be amazing... Please don't screw this up Palo Alto - make it happen!

Posted by PaloAltan, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 19, 2014 at 2:42 pm

It's at the door. Please don't kick it away this time.

Posted by Gordon, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Yes, please do this! Palo Alto's original FTTP plan was a sad failure, but this could be our second chance.

Posted by jvera, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2014 at 3:13 pm

jvera is a registered user.

Here is a link to how PA can cooperate with Google

Web Link

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Please don't screw this up again. Keep the Planning and Building Departments out of it.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 19, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Last mile.

Fiber to the home is a great concept, I was a supporter of it here in town some years ago.

What is lost in the discussion is that figuring out how to serve residences as opposed to business environments. The PA current fiber ring works for commercial entities. Connecting that ring to the "last mile," which means residential, is a totally different challenge.

I commend Google for pushing the envelope on this. It has as good as chance as any to figure it out and successfully implement it.

If they crack the code, they will spin it off. It will require competencies and a work force that is different from the types of folks that work at Shoreline.

Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Comcast is going to figure some way to kill this in its tracks! No one needs cable if one has that much band width. You do need someone on the other end, but it does not have to be Comcast. I predict this is going to be dead on arrival. One thing Comcast can do is dramatically reduce the price of internet and increase the current speed. Let's see do I pay $19 for Comcast a month or $100 for fiber? And then there was probably some fine print in the old Palo Alto Cable Coop deal that gave the buyer exclusive use of the telephone poles! Beware and watch this crash and burn.

Posted by Skeptics, a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 19, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Midtown works for Comcast.

I can't wait until Google Fiber starts here so I can get off Comcast. Sign me up!

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 19, 2014 at 4:08 pm

@Midtown - The google plans in Kansas City are gigabit internet, or gigabit internet bundled with TV, so yes Comcast will have a direct competitor, and will try to kill/block the deal. They won't be able to match Google's speed, and they probably won't be able to drop prices significantly. If it ends up forcing them to lower prices and increase speeds at all, everyone wins.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Please. Please. Please. Please. Please! Please?

I am so sick and tired of the overpriced low-speed AT&T service that we have endured with for so long! It is amazing to me that I had faster internet in a rural area outside of the university town in Texas where I attended grad school than in Palo Alto -- the left ventricle of the Silicon Valley!

@ Midtown: My sister-in-law lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She has Comcast/Xfinity for cable but enjoys fiber for internet. She said that her prices for internet actually dropped slightly when the fiber became available.

@ Paul Losch: As I said to Midtown, my sister-in-law lives in Chattanooga, TN and has been enjoying fiber for over four years. If a smaller communications utility can figure it out in a place like Chattanooga, then surely Google will work it out too!

Web Link

Posted by please make it happen , a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Dear lord this would be so great. If we do get this. The day it goes live with a signal to my home. That's the day I go outside and rip comcraps cable out of my home forever. Palo alto and Google you have my permission to do whatever you want to my street rip em all up make a big mess and take longer then promised. I don't even care if the service costs more then com crap. Ill pay it with a smile. I want to give comcrap the middle finger any way I can.

Posted by PatrickD, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2014 at 5:40 pm

So excited to see this. I think this is obligatory: Web Link

Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Don't worry, we will muck it up somehow. As with anything in this city, a vocal minority will oppose this and Google will not waste time with the PA process

Posted by Anonymous22, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

We switched to Sonic from Comcast and are pretty happy. While peak speeds are not as high, we're also saving like $1,000/yr and have much more reliable service AND pricing. It's fast enough to stream shows on our Roku. I wish it was faster to upload photos, but other than that, I have no complaints. Comcast cable would cut out whenever anything interesting was going on, like the World Series or the State of the Union address. Now we also save money by watching TV off the air.

Posted by Anonymous22, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

P.S. If we had Google and a faster connection, I'd be happy so I could use services like Dropbox - it would enable a whole lot of other activities than we can engage in now with any of the service providers. I hope they choose us!!

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 19, 2014 at 7:47 pm

We switched from ATT DSL to Comcast Internet and couldn't be happier. We're paying for 25Mpbs and the latest test shows 28+. Download is supposed to be 5, but we are at 6.

No problems, no downtime.

We use DirecTV for television.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 19, 2014 at 7:48 pm

Correction - the upload speed is 6 (not download).

Posted by Anonymous22, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2014 at 8:38 pm

@Crescent Park Dad,
Comcast must like you better than they did us. We had them for over a decade at 2 Palo Alto locations, and our TV reception was terrible the whole time, just terrible. Download speeds never came close to advertised. We pay way less with Sonic and get much more consistent, reliable service. I hope Google considers us!

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 19, 2014 at 8:57 pm

There are numerous problems with Comcast, but I do commend them for improving speed. If their reliability matched their speed, I might not be longing for fiber. We suffer frequent outages with Comcast, especially in the rain. We bump against their bandwidth caps (thankfully suspended for now), The prices are increasing, and I strongly oppose their position against net neutrality. I'd switch to AT&T but their bandwidth cap is even worse. We badly need another player in the market here.

Posted by alex, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 20, 2014 at 1:21 am

Netflix streaming has been horrendous through Comcast.

Note the difference in Netflix streaming quality between Google fiber and Comcast in this Web Link . Google is at the top and Comcast is at the bottom.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2014 at 9:47 am

Netflix streaming through Comcast is intentionally bad - at least in the sense they choose not to fix it because they don't want to watch Netflix.

Posted by mis, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 20, 2014 at 10:25 am

We're huge supporters of this. It's time to seize the opportunity!

Posted by JM, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 20, 2014 at 10:56 am

That's great news and PLEASE PLEASE don't screw it up this time, Palo Alto.

Comcast is acquiring Time Warner Cable. It's high time to have a real competitor now. Otherwise we will all suffer more.

Additionally, I cannot wait to buy a 4K TV but there is not much program. It won't surprise me that 4K programs would mostly if not only come from ultra high speed internet. So without Google 1G speed, I might never be able to enjoy 4K TV, in the self-claimed heart of Silicon Valley.

Posted by Stanford resident, a resident of Stanford
on Feb 20, 2014 at 11:52 am

We have Google fiber in our home on the Stanford Campus and it's great! Don't let this opportunity fall prey to Palo Alto politics or Comcast opposition.

Posted by Paul, a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 20, 2014 at 12:01 pm


We need this to stay competitive. It's embarrassing when MO and TX offer Internet speeds 20-100x faster than Silicon Valley.

Posted by Scott McMahon, a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 20, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Can Menlo Park get in on this, too? Please?

Posted by Mark Weiss , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2014 at 12:38 pm

What else can we do to make ourselves more useful to their agenda? Please!

Posted by MadamPresident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 20, 2014 at 12:39 pm

UK residents pay 3 times less for Internet than we do - because there is real competition there, so yes, the prices will drop

another thing is that we all should fight duopolies - e.g. Comcast, AT&T etc

Posted by Mark Weiss , a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Not sure if all dissent on this topic is considered being a "troll" but I call this "Corporate hardwire to the home" and brain really.

Web Link

Mark Weiss

Posted by Bob, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 20, 2014 at 2:17 pm

This would be great! The city should make it happen!

Posted by Susan, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 20, 2014 at 2:21 pm

I hope this happens. Comcast is the absolute worst. I've never been so outraged by the customer service of a company, which ultimately led me to cut ties with them all together. Palo Alto needs this.

Posted by Jeff Hoel, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 20, 2014 at 3:19 pm

May I request that each of you who commented to the effect that the City shouldn't screw up this opportunity -- send a message to City Council about it. Use your real name. Tell them you'd like fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP).

How many of the 34 cities will Google pick? Broadband Reports blogger Karl Bode guesses maybe one or two.
Web Link
If so, that means that lots of cities won't get picked, even if they don't screw up.

In his 04-18-11 testimony to Congress, Google's Milo Medin said that California's Environmental Quality Act precluded picking a California city as the first Google Fiber city.
Web Link
I don't know whether that's still Google's view.

This blog, "Salt Lake City is About to Make a Broadband Blunder," outlines some of the downsides of Google Fiber for Salt Lake City (one of the other 33 cities), compared to its municipal FTTP option, joining UTOPIA.
Web Link

Posted by Tom DuBois, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 20, 2014 at 4:01 pm

I'm a strong supporter of fiber to the home, though ultimately I'd like to see the manage it directly. If Google helps us get there quickly, that is fantastic. Hopefully, there is a way to transition to a city managed non-profit service, with Google as a subcontractor, managing the service.

Posted by Lynn Ware, a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 20, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Really..what has taken us this long? We definitely need some decent internet service in Palo Alto. I still can't believe that we are the epicenter of Silicon Valley and the home of Silicon and we're still dealing with regular drop out problems from the likes of Comcast...come on City of Palo Alto-let's step up the infrastructure so we have the same high standards for our city's internet highway as we do for our local schools. Bring it on Google! We're ready for you! (I agree with Paul from Meadow Park-see above!). Are we really join to let TX and MO take the lead here??

Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 20, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Don't let the city try to manage it as suggested above. We tried that once. It was called the Palo Alto Cable Coop. It was an unmitigated disaster. Comcast now owns the wires from that endeavor.

Posted by Jim Holsworth, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 20, 2014 at 5:19 pm

You can get updates on Google fiber rollouts at Web Link

Since Google asks for your street address, they may be exploring potential demand. So signing up for these updates may improve the odds of Fiber here in Palo Alto and in your neighborhood.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2014 at 5:50 pm

@Tom DuBois - It would be insane for the city to try and do fiber themselves if there is a viable partner like Google. You call it a non-profit service, but it would be a massive loss service. Also, in Kansas, Google offers a free 5mbps tier - you just have to pay for the install.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2014 at 5:53 pm

@Mark Weiss - I don't think you are a troll, but I don't think you are thinking it through either. Adding a third viable internet provider is good for everyone in Palo Alto, whether you switch to google, or keep AT&T or keep Comcast. More choice, more competition, and Google is taking the risk. If you don't like whatever agenda they have, then you can't like Comcast's any more.

Posted by JM, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 20, 2014 at 6:32 pm

I think Google has made it clear that they are willing to do it with all the invited cities. It's not the same "pick one" situation as last time.

Geologic restriction aside, their major concern, and what Palo Alto could screw up, is in their FAQ:

What is on the checklist? Why are these things so important?

There are three main items on the checklist:

We're asking cities to ensure that we, and other providers, can access and lease existing infrastructure. It would be wasteful and disruptive to put up duplicate utility poles or to dig up streets unnecessarily, when we could use existing poles or conduit.

We're asking cities to provide accurate information about local infrastructure like utility poles, conduit and existing water, gas and electricity lines so we'd know where to efficiently place every foot of fiber.

We're asking cities to make sure they have permit processes suitable for a project of this scale. Anyone building a large fiber network would need to submit thousands of construction permits — and many cities have small permitting offices that might not be prepared for that volume of paperwork. This will help us build as fast as we can and deliver service to residents as soon as possible.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2014 at 3:20 pm

I wish that there was a way that we could FAST TRACK this! Seriously: The city already tried to entice Google Fiber to come to Palo Alto. We already want it! Let's make it!

Posted by Jeff Hoel, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2014 at 3:41 pm

@Mr.Recycle, why do you think that if the City implemented its own municipal FTTP network, it would be a "massive loss service"?

There are 134 municipal FTTP networks in the United States,
Web Link
and the vast majority are financially successful -- paid for by the people who subscribe to the services.

Posted by MB, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 21, 2014 at 5:00 pm

One can already see here why Palo Alto will likely fall way down on the list of cities Google wants to do business in.

Does anyone really think that Google is unaware of the "Palo Alto Process" when innumerable Google employees (including the CEO) have had to deal with the Building and Planning Departments? Having built in other cities as well as in Palo Alto, I can confirm that nothing matches PA for bureaucratic hassles and delays. How could PA answer the questions in Google's questionnaire that would assuage Google's natural doubts about the Planning and Permitting process?

Besides the Planning Process, Google likely will be concerned that they'll have to deal with interlopers that seem to come out of the woodwork in any undertaking in Palo Alto. How do you think Google will react to Jeff Hoel's musings about the desirability of city run fiber systems? Why would they deal with this nonsense when there are plenty of other cities that will welcome Google with open arms and keep their noses out of the running of the business? Do you think a la' Tom Dubois above that Google wants to talk about being a "subcontractor" for a city run system?

You may be sure that the Duboises and the Hoels will show up at any meeting that discusses this...and that the project managers at Google will run into the arms of any of the other 33 cities on its list.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2014 at 6:01 pm

@Jeff Hoel - If the city can't even successfully build a library, what make you think they'd be capable of creating and running a fiber network? You link shows a list of networks, but no substantiation that the majority are successful, profitable, or in any way preferable to having a good selection of privately run companies to choose from.

Posted by Porter, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2014 at 4:02 am

The PA City Council needs to move the fiber project ahead on a fast track basis. Comcast provides poor service with high prices and unethical business practices.

Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2014 at 11:30 am

Government is a "we" not a "they".

Jeff Hoel is a citizen.

Google is a corporation seeking to maximize, in their every act, their profits, power and sphere of influence. They are not a philanthropy or our friend.

Read my blog, "Plastic Alto: Corporate Hardwire to the Home", for more of my qualms about this but simply put I do not think we should spend any tax dollars or staff time on this contest or stunt.
(see link in my previous post)

When FTTP is right for Palo Alto, we should budget for it ourselves.

Posted by Joe, a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Well, you're a sour pickle aren't you? When I lived in Berkeley, people like you had the good sense to write stuff like this on paper and staple it to a telephone poll.

Seriously, an anti-technology blog hosted online, with you living outside the matrix? You seem more like the Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures kind of Keanu Reeves to me.

Posted by Jeff Hoel, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2014 at 6:03 pm

@MB - FYI: On 07-22-09, at a Google public meeting about its Wi-Fi network in Mountain View, I asked Minnie Ingersoll whether Google might be interested in implementing FTTP for some worthy community; she said it wasn't within the scope of her group, but she'd pass the suggestion on. On 02-10-10, when Google announced its intention to do that, I notified Palo Alto City Council. When the City decided to apply to be Google's first Google Fiber city, it printed up cards asking people to send messages to Google saying why they wanted FTTP. I went door-to-door handing out these cards, but only to people who said they would send such a message -- a total of about 300.

In the early days, Google thought its FTTP networks would be "open access," but later decided against that. In the early days, I assumed Google's FTTP networks would serve businesses as well as residences, but so far that hasn't materialized. So I think that if the City can figure out how to implement a municipal FTTP system, that would be better for the City than Google Fiber.

If Google had had any concerns about the "Palo Alto Process," I assume it wouldn't have picked Palo Alto as one of the 34 candidates.

Posted by Jeff Hoel, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2014 at 6:09 pm

@Mr.Recycle - MuniNetworks says, "there are more than 400 publicly owned networks successfully serving local communities and the vast majority of municipal networks have not used taxpayer dollars."
Web Link

Chattanooga's municipal FTTP network now has almost twice as many customers as they needed to break even financially. By next year, they think they'll have more customers within their city than Comcast has.
Web Link
Residential 1-Gpbs symmetric Internet service costs $69.99/month. Chattanooga also use the network to implement smart grid functions that improve the reliability of the electric grid.

Lafayette's municipal FTTP network is required, by a draconian state law, to be financially successful; if it isn't, they have to sell it. Here's an article about how the network has contributed to economic development.
Web Link

It takes different skills to build a library than to build a FFTP network.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 26, 2014 at 7:51 pm

@Jeff Hoel - The Chattanooga muni broadband you tout took a $111 million dollar federal handout and $160 million in debt and to build, has been charging $350 a month for their gig service until a few months ago, and has been in operation for four years and is still only promising profitability soon.

Posted by Jeff Hoel, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2014 at 6:49 pm

@Mr.Recycle - The $111 million grant Chattanooga EPB received from the Department of Energy (October 2009) was for smart grid, not services like Internet, phone, and TV. EPB had already passed 27,000 residences by that time.
Web Link
I don't know whether the smart grid grant affected EPB's schedule for passing more premises or acquiring customers of Internet, phone, and TV services.

With FTTP networks, the business plan usually says the utility should spend a lot of money for infrastructure up-front, thus going into debt, and then pay off the debt slowly but surely over time. The more customers you have, the faster you can pay off the debt. Chattanooga has way more FTTP customers than their business plan said they had to have.

Chattanooga originally priced 1-Gbps at $349.99/month, but later dropped it to $300/month, and still later dropped it to $69.99/month. During this time, they also offered lower speed options at lower prices. What's wrong with that?

In general, municipal utilities aren't supposed to be "profitable." They're supposed to be paid for by the people who use the services

Posted by Scott, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 4, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Please write the city council if this matters to you.

Web Link

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