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Google, Comcast, FCC Changing The Face Of San Antonio Broadband

Google-Fiber's expansion plan 9 cities

Google has indicated it wants to expand its Google-Fiber network to 9 additional cities, including San Antonio. TPR's live call-in show "The Source" tackled the topic of our broadband landscape's big changes. Along with Google Fiber, the FCC and Comcast's merger are all reshaping what we know.

The difference between a fiber connection and what San Antonio has now is substantial.

"The difference between having a fiber network like this one in place and traditional internet access like we're used too is as great as the difference between having electricity and not having it," said Susan Crawford.

Crawford is a visiting professor of intellectual property rights at Harvard Law and also wrote a book on broadband and the monopoly power of the telecom industry.  

"As a regulatory matter there's some concern that you are swapping out one monopoly for another," she continued.

Former Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna has been working for years to open the fiber optic cable the city already owns through CPS Energy. She wants to open it to schools, libraries, medical and research facilities.

The vast disparity in access between rich and poor in the city needs to be addressed, said Ozuna, and Google Fiber could do that.

"We are a majority-minority city and we very much deal with digital divide issues. So when a provider like Google comes in with an offering for a $300connect fee, to distribute that fee across a 12 month billing cycle and then offer six years of service with no additional fees, that's incredibly exciting as what the potential there is," said Ozuna.

She sees what Google Fiber and what she has worked towards at the San Antonio Area Broadband Network as complimentary. The city cannot, under state law, provide broadband access to citizen end-users. Google Fiber can and does.

Texas is one of 19 states with this type of law intended to keep municipalities out of what is considered a luxury market. As the internet becomes more and more a necessity in education and things like finding a job, will this continue?

Maybe not.

In fact, in a busy day for Internet news, yesterday the FCC stated it would start looking at these types of state laws as hindering progress rather than encouraging it, potentially allowing cities to ignore them. 

"You know they're getting in the way of rolling out advanced networks quickly enough for the country. This is extremely exciting because freeing up cities to make this decision for themselves is the way to move forward in the country," said Crawford.

According to Ozuna, even with FCC changes, which have only been spoken about, a long, drawn out legal battle with states still makes Google Fiber a better fit in the short term for ultra-high speeds.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. There is not guarantee that Google Fiber moves to town. According to the company's website it will hopefully know by the end of the year which cities proceed.

San Antonio, along with the other eight cities, was provided with a checklist of issues and questions that Google would like to know the answer to by May 1. According to their website it includes things like does the city have a permitting system adept at dealing with the amount of construction that is associated with laying miles of fiber optic cable.

It also makes a rather interesting request, in San Antonio's case:

"We're asking cities to ensure that we and other providers can access and lease existing infrastructure."

Something like, I don't know, a high-speed fiber optic cable already in the ground and owned by the city?

Like a lot of things, we don't know yet.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org