Google Fiber ends negotiations for Northwestern Vermont broadband network

A shipment of fiber optic cable is delivered to the Washington Electric Co-op in East Montpellier on April 21. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Two communications union districts serving northwest Vermont no longer plan to jointly build and operate an “open access” fiber optic broadband network in the region.

The plan fell apart after Google Fiber last week ended negotiations that were nearing completion to become the proposed network‘s first internet service provider. In doing so, he spoke of a lack of confidence in the ability of Lamoille FiberNet — one of the districts — to carry out the project.

The proposed partnership was heralded as a major step toward expanding broadband access in communities with some of the least access to reliable high-speed Internet in the state.

Sean Kio, executive director of Northwest Fiberworx — which covers just under 30,000 addresses in Franklin, Grand Isle and Chittenden counties — detailed the situation in an Aug. 17 letter to the organization’s board of directors that was obtained by VTDigger.

He confirmed the details in an interview, saying Northwest Fiberworx still wants to build, own and maintain an open-access network in the three counties it serves.

But without adding the roughly 14,000 addresses in neighboring Lamoille County covered by Lamoille FiberNet, no existing proposal has enough addresses to meet the 42,000 minimum required by Google Fiber, he said.

Open access networks provide infrastructure for multiple competing Internet service providers, rather than just one.

Kio wrote in the letter that a consultant hired by Lamoille FiberNet conducted a review of the organization’s plans for the Google Fiber partnership on August 1 and found that the original cost assumptions provided by a previous consultant were no longer valid. viable.

The organization was also concerned that a proposed deal with Google Fiber was “onerous and unrealistic”, he wrote, and that it was currently not possible for the district to reach all the addresses it needed. .

“They went through it and did some additional validation and found that ultimately they were going to have deficits in both capital expenditure and operating expenditure, on an annual basis,” said Kio during Tuesday afternoon’s interview.

Citing these challenges, Lamoille FiberNet told Google Fiber on August 4 that it wanted to “break off” negotiations with the company – a day after the organization’s board of directors convened for an emergency meeting. , according to Kio’s letter.

On Aug. 16, Kio wrote, Google Fiber told him that negotiations had ended due to a “lack of confidence that Lamoille FiberNet would have (the) ability to execute,” as well as Northwest Fiberworx’s inability to serve enough addresses by itself. .

Val Davis, executive director of Lamoille FiberNet, declined to answer questions about Google Fiber negotiations or his organization’s future plans when reached by phone Tuesday. Davis said he couldn’t officially speak until after Lamoille FiberNet’s board meeting on Wednesday to discuss the situation.

Kio noted in his letter that Northwest Fiberworx reviewed its own financial model for the project after hearing from Lamoille FiberNet, and found no issues. He maintained that Northwest Fiberworx was not looking to blame Lamoille FiberNet, noting that either district could have uncovered previously unexpected issues.

Lamoille FiberNet’s conclusions came later in the negotiation process than Kio would have liked, he said, but after the news broke, Google Fiber’s decision came as no surprise. .

While Kio suggested on Tuesday that his district could still collaborate on a “widespread” basis with Lamoille FiberNet, his letter recommended against continuing to pursue a common network. “It is not in NW’s interest to continue our collaborative relationship with Lamoille CUD,” Kio wrote. “While we were bullish, tying our success to another CUD carries great risk.”

“A Bump in the Road”

The districts had been in talks with Google Fiber since last fall to become the first internet service provider for the planned open-access network. Google Fiber currently serves approximately 20 metropolitan areas across the United States, covering both rural and urban areas.

According to a report on the Vermont Community Broadband Board project, Google Fiber said it would charge $70 per month for 1 gigabit per second of internet speed, and $100 per month for twice the speed (1 gigabit equals 1 000 megabits).

For reference, the federal government’s minimum standard for high-speed Internet is 25 megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload.

Kio said the two districts were close to signing an agreement with Google Fiber, but nothing had been formalized.

After Google Fiber’s August 16 decision, Northwest Fiberworx’s board of directors voted to draft a new memorandum of understanding with Lamoille FiberNet that will no longer bind the organizations’ operations, according to Kio.

Rob Fish, deputy director of the state’s Community Broadband Board, said Tuesday the organization was “disappointed, as anyone would be” that Google Fiber pulled out of negotiations with the two communications union districts, noting that the company was to provide a good deal to customers in the area.

Still, he sounded confident, saying it’s positive districts have reviewed their funding models, especially as they are set to receive tens of millions of dollars in public funding to expand access to high debit.

“It’s a bump in the road,” Fish said. “But I’d rather it be a bump than a pothole.”

When asked if Google Fiber’s decision was a setback for Northwest Fiberworx, Kio replied “yes and no”. He said the organization plans to start looking for a new internet service provider to replace Google Fiber as the first company on its planned network.

“Google as an ISP provided a lot of alignment on what we were looking for and our ideals,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out there who can provide a similar set of ideals, or a lot more alignment.”

Google’s press office did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

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