Thursday, February 11, 2010

Seattle Mayor McGinn First to Announce Quest for Google Fiber Bucks

Newly Elected Seattle Mayor is MuniNet Advocate 02/11/2010 San Francisco - Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn (D) today made the first announcement by a big city chief executive that his community will pursue the announced intent of Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) to build gigabit fiber to the home (FTTH) open access networks in several selected U.S. communities.

Mayor Mike McGinn

Undoubtedly, a bevy of announcements will follow from McGinn's (left) fellow mayors around the nation in response to Google's release yesterday of its Request for Information (RFI) to build ultra-high speed broadband nets.

In a press release issued by his office today, the mayor's administration stated "Google’s vision of a fiber-to-the-home network with open access is very similar to McGinn’s plan to connect every home and business in Seattle with a fiber broadband network. McGinn has already created an internal city government task force of utility and technology leaders to create a plan for realizing this plan. That task force will also prepare a response to Google’s RFI."

In addition to Seattle being a municipal public power community, in which it owns its local electric distribution utility, branded Seattle City Light, Mayor McGinn points to other attributes he hopes Google's network developers find attractive.

"The city itself has many assets to bring to the partnership, including an extensive existing fiber network of over 500 miles connecting every school, college and major government building in the City. In Seattle, 88% of residents have home computers, 84% have Internet access and 74% already have Internet access faster than dial-up. Seattle is a high tech city, with many technology firms both large and small, and a culture of entrepreneurism and innovation."

Elected in November 2009, in what the New York Times called a "surprising victory," McGinn is now in his first year in office. In the fall general election he defeated T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan.

Seattle's mayor is the former State Chair of the Sierra Club, who ran on a platform of opposition to the reconstruction of the Alaska Way Viaduct, an urban highway project unpopular with environmentalists and public transit advocates. McGinn's opposition to the Viaduct public works effort put him at sword points with the city's Chamber of Commerce, and with transportation officials in the administration of Washington Governor Christine O. Gregoire (D-WA). Gregoire had endorsed Mallahan in the November general election.

On the broadband / municipal networking front, McGinn's campaign positions included a proposal to authorize Seattle City Light to build a municipally owned FTTH network. McGinn's campaign issue position was based on a plan for "muni net" construction by a past city broadband task force. McGinn stated that lack of executive "leadership" on the matter had kept the plan on the shelf.

Our Take: Who Else Wants a Google Net?
The betting is now open as to the next major cities which will begin to plan a response to the Google RFI.

We think the odds favor small to moderate sized cities with tech savvy populations, high broadband take rates, municipal power utilities in place, and histories of a local political / policy consensus in favor of public - private open access networks.

Palo Alto, itself astride the Googleplex in neighboring Mountain View, we think fits most of the criteria. The community has a City Council and a citizen's group which have fully endorsed plans for municipal high capacity fiber networking. Neither seem at all cowed when AT&T periodically throws cold water on the idea. Besides, isn't that a certain recognizable tech executive from Mountain View we see in that nice Borders there?

Boston certainly has the political consensus to work for a Google Net, what with Verizon (NYSE: VZ) having gotten Mayor Tom Menino fully steamed, owing to the firm's failure to seek the City's third video provider license, after Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and RCN (NASDAQ: RCNI), for its FiOS offering. The Hub of the Universe is probably larger than Google's target community size, and isn't one of the two score Massachusetts muni power communities. The fact that Boston triumphed in broadband stimulus Round I with an award for public computing centers proves that city broadband administrators understand the role of localities in spurring broadband adoption. Maybe Verizon will figure out how to play nice and respect local governments. Maybe hell will freeze over.

For the remaining New England communities, we see Cambridge, across the Charles River from Boston as a prime candidate to file for Google's big fiber pipes. Joining the home of The World's Greatest University seeking Google largess will be any number of small progressive cities in Vermont each having a local political profile of like, well, a small progressive city in Vermont.

Washington State, California, Massachusetts, and Vermont, each a tech savvy blue state, with one unfortunate exception. Google will feel right at home.
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