"Fiberhoods", RFIs cities' latest gambit for gigabit Internet

Most of the world is still without gigabit Internet, and ISPs aren't exactly flocking to bring that super-high-speed connectivity to cities. Start-up costs are just too unwieldy to attract ISPs to lay the fiber-optic networks necessary for operation, and the usual market forces aren't supplying the necessary impetus to get things moving in most locations. Meanwhile, many cities pay up to 34 times as much for plain-old high-speed Internet than other cities pay for gigabit Internet. That's why some cities in the United States are turning to some creative and focused maneuvering to help change the tide.

The two strategies most in vogue at the moment are "fiberhoods" and "requests for information," or RFIs. A fiberhood is a geographically localized community of businesses and residents collectively expressing a desire for gigabit Internet. Fiberhoods focus the demand into a single, unified area. This sets ISPs at ease, as it doesn't commit them to setting up infrastructure in areas where demand isn't guaranteed. Revenues from the fiberhood can fund new infrastructure for another fiberhood expressing the desire for gigabit Internet, and so on like dominoes until an entire city–theoretically–has the fastest Internet connection available today. That model is currently in play with Google Fiber, C Spire, and other fiber ISPs in a handful of cities.

An RFI is a way for cities to humble themselves before ISPs, which need to be convinced to sell fiber services to cities. Rather than submit a request for proposals (RFP)–which is much more presumptuous as it assumes a company wants in on a deal–a city can submit an RFI, which functions as a kinder, gentler, "How may we make ourselves more attractive to you?" ISPs can then explain to cities what they must do to sweeten the pot. For example, an RFI submitted recently by the Bryan, TX metro area and College Station, TX said that ISPs would get:

Access to available infrastructure and other public assets—including publicly owned poles, ducts, conduits, towers, buildings, dark fiber, etc.—on attractive terms and conditions...Streamlined regulatory and permitting practices; Tax, enterprise zone, and other financial incentives; (and) Coordination with planned construction activities.

These approaches to getting much, much faster wholesale connections at much much lower monthly costs contrast with the old school model of hiring a telecom to outfit an entire city at once with connectivity in a monopoly deal. It also contrasts with the other old-school method of issuing an RFP, which Los Angeles has recently done but found zero success with it, much to the non-surprise of industry onlookers.

For the next couple of years at least, fiberhoods may be the only deal-sweetener that carries any weight with ISPs–RFI or no–as it streamlines the process and creates a smaller investment opportunity with less risk. But as the demand for fiber continues to grow towards 2015 and beyond, acquisition of networks will become easier and easier for cities that don't want to burden taxpayers with a non-private gigabit Internet solution.

For now, most businesses and residents throughout the US and the world will have to make do with 10-100Mbps, rather than the 1-100Gbps modern life will soon require. In the meantime, if you want the fastest Internet available–likely at prices lower than you currently pay for mere high-speed–you'd best start making some noise. And gather a few hundred thousand of your closest neighbors to join you if you want a chance of evoking more than a yawn from your local ISP.

SOURCE: Ars Technica