Google Fiber Ends Negotiations for Broadband Network in Northwest Vermont

A shipment of fiber optic cable will be delivered to the Washington Electric Co-op in East Montpelier on April 21. Two communications union districts in Northwest Vermont no longer plan to jointly build and operate an “open access” fiber optic broadband network in the region. 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 broadband network in the region.

The plan fell through after Google Fiber last week pulled the plug on negotiations that were nearing completion to become the first internet service provider on the proposed network. A lack of confidence in the ability of Lamoille FiberNet – one of the districts – to carry out the project was cited.

The proposed partnership was heralded as an important step in expanding broadband access in communities with some of the least accessible access to reliable, high-speed Internet in the state.

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

He confirmed the details in an interview and said Northwest Fiberworx plans to continue to build, own and maintain an open access network in the three counties it serves.

But without the addition of the roughly 14,000 addresses in neighboring Lamoille County that will be covered by Lamoille FiberNet, no existing proposal has enough addresses to meet Google Fiber’s 42,000 address requirement, he said.

Open access networks provide infrastructure for multiple competing internet service providers, not just one.

Kio wrote in the letter that on Aug. 1, a consultant hired by Lamoille FiberNet conducted a review of the organization’s plans for the Google Fiber partnership and determined that a previous consultant’s initial cost assumptions were no longer viable.

The organization was also concerned that a proposed agreement with Google Fiber was “onerous and unrealistic,” he wrote, and that the district was unable to reach all the addresses it needed at this time.

“They went through and did some additional validation and realized that they would end up having some shortfalls in both capital expenditures and operating expenditures on an annual basis,” Kio said in Tuesday afternoon’s interview.

Citing those challenges, Lamoille FiberNet told Google Fiber on Aug. 4 that it wanted to “break up” negotiations with the company — a day after the organization’s board of directors held an emergency meeting, Kio’s letter said.

On Aug. 16, Kio wrote, Google Fiber informed 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 service enough addresses itself .

Val Davis, executive director of Lamoille FiberNet, declined to answer questions about the Google Fiber negotiations or his organization’s future plans when reached by phone on Tuesday. Davis said he could not address the record until the Lamoille FiberNet board of directors meets 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 did not want to blame Lamoille FiberNet, noting that both counties could have previously discovered unexpected problems.

Lamoille FiberNet’s findings 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 on Tuesday suggested his district might continue to work with Lamoille FiberNet in a “general” way, his letter recommended not pursuing a joint network any further. “It is not in NW’s best interest to continue our collaboration with Lamoille CUD,” Kio wrote. “While we were optimistic, tying our success to another CUD carries a great deal of risk.”

“A Bump in the Road”

The counties have been in talks with Google Fiber since last fall to be the first internet provider for the planned open access network. Google Fiber currently serves approximately 20 metro areas in the US, covering both rural and urban areas.

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

For reference, the federal government’s minimum standard for broadband internet is 25 megabits per second downloads and 3 Mbps uploads.

Kio said the two counties are close to signing an agreement with Google Fiber, but nothing has been made official.

Following Google Fiber’s decision on August 16, the Northwest Fiberworx board of directors voted to draft a new letter of intent with Lamoille FiberNet, which Kio said will no longer tie the organizations’ activities together.

Rob Fish, deputy director of the state’s Community Broadband Board, said Tuesday the organization was “disappointed, just like everyone else” that Google Fiber pulled out of negotiations with the two communications union districts, noting that the company a good offer for customers in the region is planned.

Nevertheless, he was confident and said it was positive that the districts had put their financing models to the test, especially since they are to receive state funds in the tens of millions for the expansion of broadband access.

“It’s an obstacle in the way,” Fish said. “But I’d rather have 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 begin searching for a new ISP to replace Google Fiber as the first company on its planned network.

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

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

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