The dream of open access Google Fiber internet infrastructure is over in Lamoille County.
Lamoille FiberNet and Northwest Fiberworx, the two communications union districts in Lamoille and Franklin counties that recently joined forces with Google, announced in August that the deal was dead.
The districts in April announced the possible Google partnership and started negotiations with the technology giant, but questions about the financial viability of the project for Lamoille FiberNet made the deal unworkable.
In July, a FiberNet board member discovered a critical flaw in financial models put together by a contractor before the hiring of executive director Val Davis nearly a year ago.
Inaccuracies provided by the first contractor involving Lamoille FiberNet’s initial issue cost assumptions, percentage of underground telecommunications infrastructure and location count made the Google Fiber deal untenable.
The National Rural Telecom Association, or NRTC, the rural broadband developer used by both Fiberworx and FiberNet, verified that the data was faulty.
Although the deal may have been borderline viable for Fiberworx, the new data provided by the association made clear that it was totally unviable for Lamoille FiberNet.
On Aug. 3, the FiberNet board agreed to reveal their newly nonviable numbers to Google, who then terminated the deal.
While Lamoille FiberNet and other communications union districts have received public money to build out last-mile internet infrastructure to rural areas and households not served by traditional telecommunications providers, Davis initially hoped the deal with Google Fiber would allow it to finance the construction of an open access infrastructure to serve homes throughout northwestern Vermont.
While some of the deal’s skeptics like Stowe Cable president Rick Rothammer and Mansfield Community Fiber CEO Tim Nulty, who both objected to the deal as outside of the communications union district’s scope and, in Nulty’s case, technically unworkable, have seemingly been vindicated, Davis sees the Google deal’s demise as a win.
“There’s no bad guy here. People want to buy into drama and want to try to blame somebody or create a bad guy. This is actually a success for us,” he said. “Because in doing our due diligence, and financial modeling, we prevented ourselves from entering into a long-term agreement that would be detrimental. This saved us from that train wreck.”
With the collapse of the Google Fiber deal, Lamoille FiberNet will refocus on its initial mission: to use federal grant money to expand high-quality internet access to Lamoille County’s most underserved homes, Davis said.
The district plans to connect its first customers to its fiber infrastructure next summer.
But Davis still has one eye on the future. Once Lamoille FiberNet begins generating revenue, he believes that in the next few years the district could secure the funding to continue to expand their fiber network unfettered by the grant money’s initial restrictions.
So the dream of widespread open access internet infrastructure is still alive, according to Davis, it just might take a little longer than he initially hoped.
As for the partnership formed with Northwest Fiberworx, that’s over for now too. Though Davis said they’ll still partner together in “any way that we can that benefits both” districts, Fiberworx executive director Sean Kio wrote on Aug. 17 that “it is not in (Northwest’s) best interest to continue our collaborative relationship with Lamoille (FiberNet)” while it seeks to replace the internet provider that got away.
This article was updated on September 7 to state that The Lamoille FiberNet board did not "vote" to terminate the deal with Google Fiber as previously reported, but decided in executive session to share their financial modeling with Google which showed the deal was not viable, after which Google decided to terminate the deal.