Fiber optic cables have long been recognized for their exceptional utility beyond twinkling lights fading in an out of the color spectrum at the ends of branches on a Christmas tree. Small, flexible, strong and capable of being incredibly information-dense, it’s taken a few years for fiber optics to become mainstream since their conception 45 years ago. But now, Google is taking a front seat in fiber optic development and utilization, and indicating that it wants to expand its network to additional cities, including San Antonio, according to this story by Texas Public Radio. What would this mean for the community? San Antonio law firms consider what changes it could bring to the city.
The difference between a fiber connection in San Antonio and its current traditional internet access is like the difference between “having electricity and not having it,” Harvard Law intellectual property rights professor Susan Crawford states. One of the foremost concerns around Google’s plan is the monopoly power surfacing in America’s telecom industry. Corporate attorneys like Michael C. Van associated with San Antonio law firms caution that in a regulatory sense, incorporating a fiber network for the city may simply be switching out one monopoly for another.
Others are more enthusiastic. Former Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna wants to see the fiber network open to schools, libraries and research facilities. She sees the technology as a tool to address disparities between the wealthy and the underprivileged in San Antonio. Despite the complexities that might arise between current corporate providers and Google Fiber underscored by some San Antonio law firms, Ozuna sees the network as a solution to the “digital divide.” Laws that state that the city can’t provide broadband access to citizens don’t apply to Google Fiber.
Texas is one of 19 states with laws like this on the books, intended to keep municipalities out of “luxury markets.” But attorneys like Van wonder whether these laws will change with the internet becoming less “luxury” and more necessity in education and employment for the general population. In fact, the FCC has recently reported it would begin looking at such laws as “hindering progress” rather than encouraging it, potentially allowing cities to effectively ignore them. Such a change would give lawyers in San Antonio law firms a new set of rules to play by when dealing with big providers like Google Fiber and other monopolies in the telecom industry, as well as dealing with the actions of city governments themselves.
Ozuna sees this news as a fantastic augury for closing the digital divide. Even with the FCC changes (not yet in stone), “a long, drawn out legal battle with states still makes Google Fiber a better fit in the short term.” But Google Fiber hasn’t settled on San Antonio yet. It has requested answers to questions like whether the city has a permitting system adept enough to deal with the amount of construction necessary for laying miles of fiber optic cable, and other requests which remain to be seen, in theory by this year’s end.