News

As Google Fiber withdraws, Palo Alto rethinks its broadband plan

City considers 'wireless fiber' as one possible model for bringing ultra-high-speed Internet to residents

When Google announced this week its decision to pull the plug on its plans to install fiber networks in various Silicon Valley cities, the news was disappointing but not surprising for Palo Alto officials.

The city has been talking about bringing ultra-high-speed Internet to the masses for nearly two decades and, most recently, it has been looking at Google Fiber as one of the more promising options for achieving this goal. Now, with Google deciding to halt its negotiations with “potential Fiber cities,” including Palo Alto, Mountain View and San Jose, city officials are preparing for another change of direction in their long journey toward high-speed Internet -- one that may rely less on fiber and more on wireless technology. The City Council will consider its next steps on fiber on Dec. 5.

Jonathan Reichental, the city's chief information officer, told the Weekly that Google's decision to halt the decision wasn't much of a shock. The city has been hearing about the company's setbacks in the area for several months and it has been preparing for the announcement, which came Tuesday by virtue of a blog post from Craig Barratt, who until recently served as senior vice president at Alphabet, Google's parent company. In the post, Barratt wrote that the company has “refined” its plan for delivering superfast Internet, a move that will have “immediate implications” for the current efforts.

For most of the company's “potential Fiber cities” (a group that also includes Portland, Tampa and Phoenix), the company has decided to “pause our operations and offices while we refine our approaches,” Barratt wrote.

“We’re ever grateful to these cities for their ongoing partnership and patience, and we’re confident we’ll have an opportunity to resume our partnership discussions once we’ve advanced our technologies and solutions,” Barratt wrote. “In this handful of cities that are still in an exploratory stage, and in certain related areas of our supporting operations, we’ll be reducing our employee base.”

Even before the post, Reichental said, the city saw the “writing on the wall” thanks to delays and growing expenses. The city had been looking forward to having Google offer its services to residents and its withdrawal will lead to “a few days of reflection over our disappointment.” And while the move could cause the city to look at new service models, it will not change the overriding objective of bringing ultra-high-speed Internet to the masses.

“The bottom line is, this will serve as a trigger for further innovation,” Reichental told the Weekly. “No one has lost interest in high-speed Internet.”

One promising model, Reichental said, is one referred to as “wireless fiber,” a model that incumbent Internet providers and experts in the field are increasingly looking at. This could mean bringing a fiber “backhaul” to blocks throughout the city and then installing wireless technology to give ultra-high-speed Internet to every home. That's expected to be one of the options that the council will look at during its December meeting.

Reichental also noted that even while Google has retreated from Palo Alto, other providers are still on pace to unveil their own ultra-high-speed Internet services over the next year. AT&T has a pending application for permits to launch its own service, AT&T Fiber (formerly known as GigaPower). The cable giant Comcast is also pursuing a gigabit-per-second service, an endeavor that will benefit from the fact that it will not have to install and new cables. Comcast's technology, known as DOCSIS, will allow the company to provide gigabit service through existing cables, Reichental said.

“In 2017, we should see permits and services becoming available across the city,” Reichental said.

It remains to be seen, however, what role Palo Alto's existing 41-mile “dark fiber” ring will play a role in the new world of gigabit service. In the past, city officials have viewed the small but profitable network, which serves dozens of mostly commercial customers, as the logical launching point for a citywide system.

Over the past few years, however, officials have been cautious about having the city both build and operate a citywide fiber network. Instead, they directed staff last fall to explore a possible partnership with a private-sector provider who would manage the city-owned system.

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2016 at 12:30 pm

When the city was undergrounding the utility lines (electricity, telephone, cable TV), each homeowner had to pay $10,000 or more to connect the new underground lines to their homes. That's what private contractors were charging to dig a trench from the city connection to your home and install the cables and more complex installations could cost a lot more. Google Fiber may be fun to have, but I'm not paying another $10,000 to install it.


12 people like this
Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2016 at 12:35 pm

Hi-speed internet access is essential for every citizen, not just commercial entities. The existing "dark-fiber" ring should be expanded immediately to give fair and complete access to hi-speed internet for every citizen as part of Palo Alto utilities, and it should be maintained as an important City service. Comcast and ATT are notorious for their poor service and high cost. The essential components of the system are access for every citizen, speed, dependibility, maintenance, security, and cost. A wifi component sounds like a security risk to me; does anyone know more about this facet of supplying City-wide internet?


20 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 27, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Google has determined that building fiber networks is a money losing prospect. Google knows about internet services. Google knows a lot about internet services.

The City of Palo Alto knows basically nothing about internet services. It has, for example, struggled for years to achieve a working, coherent city website. It still struggles.

Question: how much taxpayer money will city hall pour into this thoroughly-certified money rathole?

Should we let city hall pour any taxpayer money into this thoroughly-certified money rathole?


21 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2016 at 1:16 pm

We need competition!
The Comcast monopoly has a stranglehold in our neighborhoods as there are no real options. :(


3 people like this
Posted by Fiber is Dead
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2016 at 1:20 pm

Fiber is Dead is a registered user.

Today, Google laid off more employees--130 this time-- who worked in their fiber optics dept.

Google will only comment that their are more options to choose from, while not naming those options.

Do no evil, indeed


5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2016 at 2:23 pm

The people that Google laid off were reportedly fiber optics installers, not the engineers you see strolling around Mountain View. Google has bought a couple of wireless high-speed internet companies recently, so presumably that is what they mean by "options".

Is Google's wireless internet more or less secure than the Comcast's shared cable or the LTE internet used by smartphones? Someone smarter than me needs to figure that out.


1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 27, 2016 at 3:42 pm

"We need competition! The Comcast monopoly has a stranglehold in our neighborhoods as there are no real options. :( "

So why doesn't a group of local Silicon Valley entrepreneurs start an FTTH startup, raise capital, string up the town, and rake in the profits? Easy to answer. They know they will lose money.

Instead, our fiber advocates pressure city hall to buy them their toy, paid for by the taxpayers. No way, gang.


12 people like this
Posted by JoAnn
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2016 at 4:46 pm

Various useless city councils have been dithering and dawdling over this questions for at least 15 years. A group of engineer and internet professionals proposed fiber to the home. The council dithered a while and then gave us -- fiber to some businesses. Thanks a bunch. By now we could have had an established fiber network and licensed different content providers to use it. But no, we have to deal with the monopolists who set up the system we're stuck with now.


1 person likes this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2016 at 4:57 pm

@Curmudgeon "So why doesn't a group of local Silicon Valley entrepreneurs" Because there is no be profit to be made doing it. I think Google has shown that to be the case. But one of the reasons is that the market is currently controlled by a duopoly (monopoly if we are talking true high speed internet) that the government helped create, so it is not crazy to think that we might need the government to step in to get some competition going.


2 people like this
Posted by clearly doesn't work
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2016 at 5:06 pm

Whatever the technical angle, it clearly doesn't work. I admit I don't KNOW the real story, but I am curious.
The executive in charge of this costly department at Google is stepping down but is permitted to skate, of course, as he will be an "adviser" to Larry Page. Pays to have friends in high places.
Meanwhile, while we consumers certainly need competition for our dollar, we don't have that and we also don't want to pay huge fees for what might be an outmoded or unworkable or unsustainable technology. Im not sure what the solution is, but I was always concerned about Palo Alto contracting with Google for the fiber.


14 people like this
Posted by Are you kidding?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 27, 2016 at 5:23 pm

"City considers 'wireless fiber' as one possible model for bringing ultra-high-speed Internet to residents."

Are you kidding? Remember that Verizon was sued for putting up a simple cellular tower at the Palo Alto Little League? This city is so full of luddites that wireless fiber will never take off. You just wait and see.


6 people like this
Posted by Midlander
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2016 at 6:11 pm

Midlander is a registered user.

Dear City, please help and facilitate AT&T in moving their fiber proposal forward. Please don't dream up odd requirements or impose random obstacles!

Yes, the city may eventually decide to do something. Fine. In the mean time, please enable as many commercial vendors as possible to provide competing high speed services!

I'd like to see fiber and right now AT&T look like the best bet.


3 people like this
Posted by radiaon difference
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 27, 2016 at 6:52 pm

We need to push for Fiber to the home. Dirty secret WI-FI inside the one's house has 100 times more radiation from cell antennas. yes, turn off your routers at night. WI-FI is a great technology, very cheap for the companies. It will continue to grow with the INTERNET OF THINGS. but if no other way keep using copper and RG45 Ethernet CAT5E inside the house


Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Oct 27, 2016 at 10:05 pm

If we are happy with our current internet speed, why invest tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure? Any additional competition to Comcast and AT&T would be more than offset by paying off the infrastructure investment.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 27, 2016 at 10:20 pm

"...so it is not crazy to think that we might need the government to step in to get some competition going."

Since when does can-do Silicon Valley need socialism? I bet city hall would welcome a bona fide proposal by a credible Silicon Valley startup to string the town at zero risk to taxpayers.

Get off your keyboard and get going.


3 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 28, 2016 at 6:53 am

I paid $7,000.00 in 1997 to have the phone, cable & electric wiring put underground because the city of Palo Alto was preparing for wireless. If I did not do it, the city would do it on my property & I would be stuck with that bill. I am paying Comcast $101.13/month for Basic cable & internet. Not only "richies" live in Palo Alto. Some of us are on fixed income & rely on the internet to connect us to our children & grandchildren. Palo Alto's lack of interest in Palo Altans other than "richies" is tantamount to discrimination. Will Palo Alto every repair/replace the underground pipes, will Palo Alto ever fix pot-holes, will Palo Alto ever stop paying top $$$ to mgmt. and then blame union workers for their financial problems? Will Palo alto ever get its head on straight????


9 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Oct 28, 2016 at 9:07 am

@chris (resident of University South) wrote:

"If we are happy with our current internet speed, why invest tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure?"

Because you don't speak for the entire community.

Also, Internet usage will increase over time, for things like streaming 4K video. In the same way, it is reasonable to assume that California (and the local area's) population will continue to increase. That results in making some timely upgrades to other infrastructure, like roads, schools, public transit, bike lanes, water mains, utility lines, parking, etc.

It's not just about you and your own little bubble, I'm afraid to say.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2016 at 11:03 am

Can't speak about the rest of the country, but European internet choices and better speeds are much better than the Bay Area.

Incredible!


3 people like this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2016 at 12:23 pm

@chris - The question isn't whether you are happy with your speed today, it is will you still be happy with it in the next few years as bandwidth intensive services expand. I was really happy when 56k modems came out, seemed super fast at the time, but if we froze technology at the point I'd be very unhappy now.

And it isn't just about speed, it is about creating a competitive environment to keep Comcast and AT&T honest. We've seen in areas where fiber has been rolled out), cable and telcos have immediately responded by lowering prices, and offering much higher speeds. So even if you are happy now, there could be even more potential happiness for you.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 28, 2016 at 1:02 pm

"Internet usage will increase over time, for things like streaming 4K video."

Has anybody approached Netflix about fibering up the town? Seems they'd benefit the most from it, given that the rationalization for fiber has devolved from enhanced productivity to high-def entertainment. Maybe they would invest in the PAFTTH startup that some aspiring local Silicon Valley billionaire ought to create.


2 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2016 at 6:13 pm

Our Comcast bill seems to go up several times a year. Unfortunately, there just isn't much of an option. AT&T is available at our place, but their speeds are hardly "high speed." In fact, the phone rep claimed that the city was the reason why they couldn't offer fast speeds. I had hoped that the availability of Google Fiber would cause Comcast to reciprocate in regard to pricing.


Like this comment
Posted by Ray
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 28, 2016 at 9:56 pm

I'be been a slave to comcast for way too long.
are there other option to this monopoly company? sonic.net? I don't know of any others. Willing to try to try anything at this point. Why should I have to wait 6 minutes for my internet to go live just because my other neighbors are streaming videos at peak times? We are in the heart of silly-con valley...should be getting the best service in the world but having to deal with the lamest company in the world!
Just my humble opinion


2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2016 at 10:05 am

Pulling fiber is expensive. Either there's a dense set of paying customers or a third party which offsets the costs to make it pay off. It's better to pull fiber to concentrators and use some other technology for the last segment. AT&T is using bonded aDSL. It could be coax. It could be point-to-point wireless. Google Fiber has to figure this out to be economically viable.


2 people like this
Posted by Jeff Hoel
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2016 at 4:36 pm

@resident (10-27-16, 12:30) -- None (or practically none) of what you paid for undergrounding was for fiber.

At the 01-13-16 UAC meeting,
Web Link
undergrounding costs were discussed and the homeowner's share was said to be about $5,000. On average, I guess. See page 34 here:
Web Link
This 01-06-10 staff report says the same.
Web Link

Do you know what your undergrounding district number is? When undergrounding district 41 (boundaries shown here)
Web Link
was put in, extra conduit for future fiber running down the street was put in, and homeowners had the option of putting in extra conduit for future fiber from the street to the home.


2 people like this
Posted by Paco
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 29, 2016 at 5:17 pm

Why not enlist the expertise of Al Gore who proudly claims he invented the Internet. Seems like he is available as he is always in town collecting donations and hobnobbing with city council and local politicians for his many "charitable" projects. If anybody knows about high speed internet it would be Al. Sounds like a win win proposition for everybody! Problem solved!


3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 29, 2016 at 6:38 pm

"Why not enlist the expertise of Al Gore who proudly claims he invented the Internet. "

Despite the yapping of ignorant hardcore detractors, Gore indeed created the Internet. He put through the legislation that transferred ownership and control of the DOD's ARPANET to the civilian sector. Other smart people did the rest.

But why ask him to bring hi-def Game of Thrones, etc., to your screen? Why not form a startup, get capital, fiber up the town, install the backhaul, and shovel up all the money yourself?


2 people like this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2016 at 7:03 pm

@Curmudgeon - Nope, Al Gore had nothing to do with the privatization or commercialization of the internet. His only tangential connection is the High Performance Computing Act of 1991 which funded research, but had direct impact on transfer/control/commercialization/privatization or invention of the internet.

@Jeff Hoel - come on, now is the time to kick up the advocacy. That's how stuff happens in Palo Alto, a small vocal minority makes demands until the city council buckles (look at how cycling lobby swings its weight around). So don't be shy!


1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 29, 2016 at 11:25 pm

"@Curmudgeon - Nope, Al Gore had nothing to do with the privatization or commercialization of the internet."

Nice obfuscation try, but the facts are otherwise Web Link.


Like this comment
Posted by another curmudgeon
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 30, 2016 at 2:03 pm

Al Gore never claimed he invented the Internet. That phrase was made up by a media editor with an overactive mouth. Don't believe me? Try to find a reference for him saying it.


2 people like this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2016 at 2:29 pm

@Curmudgeons - He said "I took the initiative in creating the Internet" not that he invented it, and that is just as big a lie. He neither invented, created, privatized, nor sponsored legislation transferring control of the internet from the government. And he is now holding back advancement of the internet by distracting from the issues at hand, getting fiber deployed.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2016 at 2:37 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 30, 2016 at 6:36 pm

"And he [Gore] is now holding back advancement of the internet by distracting from the issues at hand, getting fiber deployed."

Aw, c'mon. Piling on Al Gore is so yesterdecade. With-it right thinkers blame Hillary for everything these days.

What you need to get fiber is a credible, convincing analysis of its utility and funding structure. Pop fictions won't do it.


Like this comment
Posted by Jeff Hoel
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2016 at 5:12 pm

@NoMoPa (10-29-16, 19:03) -- I try not to be shy. For example, I use my real name when posting to paloaltoonline.

I also send messages to City Council and the Utilities Advisory Commission. Others could do that too.

Council
Web Link
has been publishing "letters from citizens" documents for a long time. For example, its 11-07-16 agenda points to this document containing public letters
Web Link
including a message from me.

Recently, UAC
Web Link
has adopted a similar practice of publishing the messages it receives. For example, its 11-02-16 agenda points to this document containing public letters:
Web Link
including some messages from me.


Like this comment
Posted by Jeff Hoel
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Please look at this this article by MuniNetworks' Chris Mitchell:
10-27-16: "Google Fiber Pauses - But No One Else Should"
Web Link

(I asked Council and UAC to do this, but I haven't seen that message published yet.)


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 31, 2016 at 6:57 pm

I'll vouch for Jeff.


Like this comment
Posted by Jeff Hoel
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 2, 2016 at 12:35 pm

The City is inviting people to comment on what the City's priorities for 2017 should be.
Web Link
So far, 61 "registered" comments have been received (as well as 13 comments that aren't registered, so they can't viewed). Two have asked for FTTP. If you'd like to ask for citywide municipal FTTP as a priority, here's an opportunity.


Like this comment
Posted by rlindley
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 8, 2016 at 9:18 am

"Wireless Fiber" or other millimeter wave broadband technologies have been the logical answer for years now. Huge build-out costs, long lead times, permitting for road construction and trenching - all these things have always been the unavoidable Achilles heel in widespread FTTH deployments.

Excited to see where this goes at a city level!


Like this comment
Posted by Bad plan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2016 at 10:15 am

Should the city do it? No.
This city does not have the talent required and will just waste a lot of money paying consultants and ultimately getting nothing done. What recent public works project can you think of that the city has done well in a fiscally responsible manner?
I cant think of a one.


Like this comment
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 9, 2016 at 9:20 am

Uh .... Al Gore "I took the intiative in creating the Internet" Web Link

This controversy about Al Gore and the Internet is emblematic of the inadequate way that
Democrats in general communicate. Gore either did not really understand what it was he
did, or he was so condescending that he thought Americans could not grasp his role with
the Internet or perhaps would not be sufficiently impressed with his actual role.

But where has he been since in terms of bringing to the front and center how poorly the
US has utilized the Internet. Of the developed world the US has pretty much the lowest
speeds and highest costs of Internet connectivity.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2016 at 12:19 pm

"Americans could not grasp his [Gore's} role with the Internet or perhaps would not be sufficiently impressed with his actual role."

That is painfully obviously the situation, isn't it.

"But where has he been since in terms of bringing to the front and center how poorly the US has utilized the Internet. Of the developed world the US has pretty much the lowest speeds and highest costs of Internet connectivity."

Gore did his job. He privatized what had been government property and created a huge opportunity for private industry. The real question is: Why has our hallowed private industry failed us so miserably?

Ronald Reagan deregulated the telecommunications industry, ostensibly so it would be free to innovate, and provide platinum-class service, at very low cost.

So what have those unshackled telecomms accomplished for us since their liberation? Lousy service at high cost but with great corporate bottom lines, right? Wall Street's happy. Why aren't you?

Don't expect Trump to fix it. Time for Silicon Valley enterprise to step in. Why not you? Startup a provider service company, raise capital, string up the town, and watch the money flow in.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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