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City Desk: Feb. 26, 2014

The Most Connected City in Silicon Valley Candidate for Google Fiber Network

Last week Silicon Valley Power (siliconvalleypower.com) announced that Google chose Santa Clara as one of 34 cities being evaluated as sites for the ultra high speed “Google Gigabit” communications network.

The first pilot “fiberhoods” in Provo, Utah are already signing up customers, and other pilots are rolling out in Austin Texas and Kansas City, Mo., according to the Google Fiber website (fiber.google.com). Other local Google Fiber candidates include Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose, and Sunnyvale.

Google Fiber is a public-private partnership between the Internet giant and cities to bring 1-gigabit-per-second (Gbps) to your house. To get a sense of perspective about this, typical “high speed” Internet connections might be 50 megabits per second (Mbps). One Gbps is 1,000 Mbps – 200 times faster.

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The magnitude of the change is like the magnitude of change that occurred when broadband replaced dial-up Internet connections, says Google spokeswoman Jenna Wandres. “There was so much that we couldn’t do [with dial-up]. We couldn’t have imagined accessing libraries of thousands of videos.” Just as broadband enabled a hundredfold leap forward for the Internet, Google envisions 1Gbps as being equally transformative.

“This is about the future Internet,” says Wandres. “It’s because we heard from consumers. Mayors are starting to hear from citizens asking for choices. The U.S. Council of Mayors has made broadband a priority.” And well they might, in the face of an explosion of “smart” infrastructure. “Fiber is helping to future-proof the Internet,” says Wandres.

Google is going all-in to be an all-round consumer services provider, and that means TV. And if Google can pull it off, there’s good reason for cable companies to start worrying – as investors evidently already have, with Comcast stock dropping $1.96 the day of Google’s announcement.

Google’s plans start with free 5 Mbps service, $70/month Gigabit Internet-only, and $120 Gigabit Internet plus TV – which includes 200 HD channels, DVR, 1 terabyte (one trillion bytes) of content storage, and on-demand content including direct-connect to Netflix. Plus, the service doesn’t have data caps or bandwidth limits, notes Wandres. Google has gotten a “very positive” to its pilot services, especially from large families. “It changes how families can use the Internet.”

The cities chosen for the current program were tech-friendly, tech-savvy cities with an entrepreneurial bent and the skills to undertake a project of this magnitude, says Wandres.

Although nothing’s cast in concrete yet, Santa Clara enjoys unique advantages as a showcase because it owns its own utility, according to Larry Owens, Silicon Valley Power (SVP) Manager of Customer Services. “We think that [for Google] understanding Santa Clara’s streamlined permitting and the benefits of having our own utility will make Santa Clara very attractive,” says Owens. “Because we’re a municipal utility, we own the poles and conduit, so we can streamline permitting and installation.”

Second, Santa Clara has a lot of the infrastructure Google Fiber needs already in place: the city’s industrial-strength fiber optic communications network (svpfiber.com). The network not only covers Santa Clara’s industrial corridor, Owens explains, it also reaches into residential neighborhoods to schools and fire stations.

A Santa Clara-Google relationship has been a possibility since 2010, when the city first applied to be a pilot for a Google high-speed network. The city wasn’t chosen, says Owens, “but we stayed in touch with Google and were very excited when we were contacted [two weeks ago], ‘you’re on our [Bay Area] list with four other cities.”

On the other side of the picture, some might question Google’s understanding of the performance level required for consumer-grade telecom service. People might be willing to deal with Gmail outages, but not TV outages during the Super Bowl.

Some might remember Google’s WiFi network in Mountain View, which dwindled into obscurity because the infrastructure couldn’t handle the demand. However, as part of its current efforts, Google plans to replace that network with wireless hotspots designed for today’s proliferation of mobile devices, says Wandres.

Talks between SVP and Google may start as soon as this week, but there’s not even a “best guess” at this point for when work will actually begin if Santa Clara is chosen. Even with Santa Clara’s existing infrastructure, the project of bringing fiber optic cable to individual homes will be a huge one.

“What we’ve learned from is that every single city is different,” says Wandres. “It’s up to the local City Councils how they’re going to proceed. We want to have an open process in public view.”

El Camino Beautification and Improvement Projects Getting Underway

“Some very interesting things happening on the El Camino right now,” is how City Manager Julio Fuentes put it at the Feb. 11 Council meeting when he reviewed a variety of development projects from Santa Clara Town Center opening next fall, to Summerhill’s recently announced residential project.

Visual and safety improvements are also in the cards for El Camino, reported Director of Public Works Rajeev Batra. The city has replanted the median islands and is improving accent lighting. And the Lawrence Expressway overpass is also slated for some significant improvements including new landscaping and murals under the overpass.

Upgrades are in the cards for the current “yellow” high-pressure sodium street lights – many over 25 years old. They’ll be replaced with LED lighting that’s brighter, more natural, and provides better visibility, as well as lower electric usage and longer life. Simply retrofitting the existing “cobra” fixtures will cost $500,000, Silicon Valley Power Director John Roukema told the Council on Feb. 11, and will come from the utility’s public benefit fund.

A second possibility is installing decorative lighting “that mirrors our heritage as the Mission City” on the existing light pole foundations. Decorative lights wouldn’t offer as much energy reduction, but would add a significant aesthetic improvement on El Camino.

However, decorative lighting doesn’t come cheap. The total cost would be about $4 million, which would come out of the utility’s electric reserves. However, the Council was unanimous in preferring more decorative lighting, and asked SVP to provide designs and a more detailed plan.

In addition, new pedestrian crosswalk improvements will make the El Camino a safer thoroughfare. On several intersections where there are crosswalks but no traffic signals, Public Works proposes embedded crosswalk lights that are activated when pedestrians press a signal button.

Intersections on the list include Helen Avenue, Alpine Avenue, Buchanan Drive, and Morse Lane. Similar embedded lights have been implemented on Lafayette Street at Reeve Street, Pomeroy Avenue at Lochinvar Avenue, and Cabrillo Avenue at Hoover Drive.

The cost is about $400,000 and the appropriation will be formally requested at the Feb. 25 Council meeting. CalTrans approval is required because it’s a state road, and the city expects that lights will be in operation be about a year from the state approval.

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The Mlnarik Law Group, Inc.

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