In a few years time, when you come to retire in Portland, chances are that you will be able to subscribe to Google Fiber. Earlier this week, the city took another step in allowing Google to expand its gigabit fiber network to “fiberhoods” in the city by approving a franchise agreement with the company. Google plans to invest over $300 million in this project, the Oregonian reported earlier this week, and because this is Portland, somebody has already brewed an IPA to celebrate the vote.
Portland is part of Google’s wider expansion plan for Fiber, which it announced this February. In total, 34 cities are on Google’s list. All of them are at different stages in the process of evaluating Fiber and working with Google, but it seems Portland has been moving the fastest so far (which makes me happy, because that’s where I retired to a long time ago). Besides the city of Portland itself, Google is also working with officials in the suburbs of Beaverton, Lake Oswego, Tigard, Gresham and Hillsboro (the home of Intel’s largest fabs).
Unlike other franchise in the city, Google will not have to serve every neighborhood but will get to pick its own “fiberhoods” based on local demand, just like it did in its pilot markets around Kansas City.
To illustrate the issues around local ISP monopolies, it’s also worth noting that potential subscribers in apartment buildings may not get to enjoy Fiber anytime soon. Because building owners have likely already signed agreements with existing cable providers, Google will have to negotiate with them separately to bring Fiber to those buildings (which in the case of Portland means some of its most affluent areas may actually be the last to get Fiber). Google, however, also plans to launch a city-wide WiFi network, so even those who can’t get access to Fiber itself will likely benefit from this project.
It’s worth noting that Google itself has not made a final decision that it will actually build out Fiber in Portland — or any other city — yet. The company has always said that it would announce its next steps by the end of this year, but it seems unlikely that Google would jump through all of these bureaucratic hoops just to abandon the project in the end.