The city of Los Angeles board of supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to send out a "request for proposal" (RFP) to ISPs for the build of a massive new fiber-based network that would bring 1 gigabit-per-second broadband to the whole city.
Los Angeles Information Technology Agency general manager Steve Reneker told Ars Technica Tuesday that the RFP, which will likely be released next month, "would require fiber to be run to every residence, every business, and every government entity within the city limits of Los Angeles."
The first question that comes to mind after hearing this news is whether or not Google Fiber will respond to the RFP. Chances are it will not. For one thing, Google doesn't normally respond to RFPs. For another, L.A. is requiring its suitors to serve both residents and businesses, and so far Google Fiber has been a purely residential service.
And for a third thing, the City of L.A. would like a vendor that can also offer cellular service. It's very unlikely Google would want to get involved in that business. This part of the RFP would seem to favor AT&T or Verizon.
However, the RFP asks for citywide Wi-Fi, a free or low-cost service tier, 1 Gbps service, and possibly TV service, all of which Google already offers elsewhere.
It may not matter whether Google ends up bidding to bring the fiber to L.A. As we discussed in a story last week, Google Fiber's real goal may be to change to competitive and regulatory environment so that big ISPs like AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner and Comcast are compelled to build faster networks and--dare I say it--compete with each other.
Smarter people than me believe this. "We have high conviction that Los Angeles will not be the last city to consider and possibly act to foster the deployment of fiber-to-the-home networks," says Sanford Bernstein analyst Carlos Kirjner in a note to investors today. "We think such actions are direct consequences of the deployment of Google Fiber in Kansas City, the ongoing deployment in Provo, UT, and the announced deployment of Google Fiber in Austin, TX. . . and of the AT&T response in Austin, TX."
Kirjner and the other analysts at Bernstein have done some lengthy and painfully detailed analysis of Google's fiber business in Kansas City and come away believing the service can actually make money. But they also acknowledge a longer-term motive on Google's part:
"Google certainly wants to ensure that a growing and ultimately large number of homes (and businesses) have very high speed Internet access, as this certainly benefits the Web and Google."
There's also a chance that L.A. RFP will attract no credible bidders willing to lay out the roughly $3 billion in upfront costs to build the new network. Even then, the fact that the second-biggest city in the country voted unanimously for a citywide fiber network will be discussed at length by, and among, city managers across the country.
The chatter that grows from this development and the buzz around Google Fiber in Austin, Kansas City, and Provo might ultimately result in many more cities issuing their own similar RFPs.