Google Fiber: Portland City Council Debates Franchise Agreement

<p>Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz holds a bottle of Gigabit IPA.</p>

Oregon Public Broadcasting

The Portland City Council heard testimony today on its proposed franchise agreement with Google Fiber.

The Office For Community Technology is taking public comment on the proposed franchise until June 11, when the council will vote on it.

In the agreement, Portland gives Google a franchise to build and operate a fiber network using the city's streets to deliver broadband and video.

In return, the city would receive a franchise fee of 5 percent of Google Fiber's gross revenues, and Google would agree to provide a number of public services, including several free outdoor wireless access networks and free broadband for a number of community organizations.

Commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz indicated they are interested in dedicating some or all of the 5 percent fee the city collects to making broadband service more affordable for low-income residents in the city.

A diverse group of students, programmers, educators, and business owners urged the council to adopt the franchise agreement.

They discussed the potential for gigabit speed internet to improve the experience of a six year old playing Minecraft, to make it easier for a patient with a chronic disease to share personal health data with her doctor on a daily basis, and to help businesses in Portland compete with their counterparts in South Korea and Europe.

Josh Klein, Chief Information Officer for Portland Public Schools, testified in support of the agreement, but asked the council to direct some of the revenue it collects to providing free or low-cost broadband to low income families.

"Helping families access the internet levels the playing field for students who have been historically under served, and helps to close the achievement gap that makes student performance predictable by race," he said.

Google spokeswoman Darcy Nothnagle responded to concerns that the agreement does not require Google to build out its service to all neighborhoods in the city.

"I want to be clear that everyone in Portland would have the chance to get Google Fiber. We will build a backbone throughout the whole city," she said.

Nothnagle said each neighborhood in the city would have a goal of a specific number of households, likely ranging from 5 percent to 25 percent of the population, that would need to sign up for fiber or broadband in order to bring service to the neighborhood.

Nothnagle said the neighborhood goals would be based on population density. "Here in Portland, we will build in every 'fiberhood' that meets our goal, even 'fiberhoods' that only want our free service," she said.

Chris Smith, with the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission, told the City Council the proposed agreement with Google would help Portland remain competitive, but urged the council to look for alternate ways to provide gigabit internet to neighborhoods that will not meet Google's thresholds for participation.

"I want to challenge this council to make sure that you don't stop your efforts until we offer this service, or one like it, in every neighborhood in the city," he said.

The City Council's questions also focused on equity. Commissioner Nick Fish asked if the franchise agreement required Google to provide fiber to schools in the city.

Mary Beth Henly, the director of Portland's Office of Community Technology, said the franchise does not.

"We're hoping that since there are schools in 'fiberhoods' that there may be that possibility to deploy a second wire to schools," she said.

In the agreement, Portland gives Google a franchise to build and operate a fiber network, using the city's streets, to deliver broadband and video. In return:

Citizens can submit comments on the proposed Google Fiber franchise agreement to the Office Of Community Technology,

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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