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Google Fiber sets its sights on Arizona – again


Maybe second time is the charm? Google Fiber announced plans to expand into Arizona, eight years after it abandoned plans to buildout the state’s capital city of Phoenix.


In a blog, Google Fiber’s West Region General Manager Ashley Church said the company is looking to launch its service in Mesa, a city located within the Phoenix metro area. Its plan is dependent on the city council’s approval of a license agreement which will allow Google Fiber to access municipal rights of way along public highways to build its infrastructure. The proposal calls for an initial five-year license term with a renewal option.


If the deal is approved at the Council’s upcoming July 11 meeting, Church said Google Fiber will “kick off the engineering and operations effort right away and begin construction in Mesa early next year.”


The council will also vote on a five-year license agreement for open access fiber infrastructure provider SiFi Networks at the same meeting. Rather than paying a license fee like Google Fiber, SiFi Network’s proposed contract states it would provide certain “in-kind” services to the city, including access to up to 670 demand points across the network and discounted broadband to as many as 33,000 income-eligible households.


This isn’t the first time Google Fiber has set its sights on Arizona. Back in 2014, it announced plans to bring its gigabit service to Phoenix and the metro-area cities of Tempe and Scottsdale. While it was able to secure license agreements with all three municipalities, it hit a hurdle when Cox Communications filed a lawsuit in 2015 claiming Tempe had created a new license category that unfairly advantaged Google Fiber. The company ultimately halted its expansion plans for Phoenix and several other cities in October 2016 in order to focus on growing its existing markets.


If Google Fiber does actually make it into Mesa, it will be competing against incumbents Cox and Lumen’s CenturyLink brand.


Micro-trenching

According to public documents, the city council’s vote comes after it put out a request for information from fiber providers in January. After receiving responses from seven providers including Google Fiber, the city said it moved to adopt new policies designed to make fiber deployments there easier. Among other things, it approved construction standards allowing for micro-trenching in the city’s rights of way.


Micro-trenching refers to the practice of digging narrow and shallow trenches in which to lay fiber cabling. Both Google Fiber and SiFi Networks have proposed using micro-trenching for construction of their networks. Google Fiber in particular has talked up micro-trenching in the past as technique which allows it to move faster and cause less disruption to local residents. However, the method has not always worked in its favor.


Google Fiber built out a new network in Louisville, Kentucky in 2017. But just two years later, the company announced it was shutting down its infrastructure there. At the time, Google explained it had tried to use shallower trenches in Louisville than elsewhere, with Gizmodo reporting it attempted construction at a depth of two inches rather than the usual six to 12 inches. It also used epoxy to fill the trenches rather than asphalt. Ultimately, this left the city with exposed cables and Google Fiber decided to shut down its network rather than rebuild it.


A report from the Mesa City Council notes micro-trenches there will require 6 inches of cover on residential streets and 10 inches of cover on main roads.

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