Huntsville Utilities continuing work on the fiber infrastructure Google Fiber is using

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Google Fiber is in Huntsville so quickly because of its unique partnership with Huntsville Utilities.

Huntsville Utilities is building the network and fiber backbone. Only when it's ready can Google Fiber, or any other provider, come in and lease it.

"That was a visionary idea, and we are thrilled to be a part of it," explained Caroline de Gantes, Google Fiber Huntsville Head of Business.

"We are glad to have them," remarked Tony Owens, Huntsville Utilities President and CEO.

The lease with Google Fiber certainly helps Huntsville Utilities, which was going to need to construct the fiber infrastructure anyway.

"Revenue is always welcome," said Owens.

Why does Huntsville Utilities need the fiber system?

It helps with their own work, according to Owens.

"We use the fiber and technology for controlling operation of the electric system, water system, and gas system," he said. "But we need to be effective and to be efficient."

He said this build will allow them to do that.

"We need a fiber build throughout the entire electric distribution system for distribution automation in electric. We need it for control of the water system. Valves, tanks, pumps, stations. And also in gas, in zones and pressure zones. That technology is what we need, so we are going to have to build it."

Huntsville Utilities created this business model to offset some of the cost. The water, electric, gas system, and city of Huntsville are tenants. Google Fiber now is, too.

More tenants to come

Google Fiber is currently leasing space on the fiber system. But more are expected to join it, said Owens.

"We are going to market it," he said, "We are going to actively market it to other businesses, and industry, and service providers."

He said there is no other entity signing on a dotted line for a lease yet, but Huntsville Utilities is in talks with a few other providers about an agreement.

Where is Huntsville Utilities on the build?

Owens said Huntsville Utilities is on-schedule to complete the dark fiber system build within the city's corporate limits in three years.

It consists of 650 miles of overhead construction, 350 miles of underground, and 100 miles of backbone. The system is built off of six areas.

"We should be close to completing the Chase area in June," he commented. Then Huntsville Utilities contractors would move on to another section.

Overhead areas can be constructed faster than boring through the ground. While Huntsville Utilities can not definitively say where the fiber infrastructure will be built out next, they have an idea of how the build might progress.

"What we might be doing," he said, "is look at it somewhat in a clockwise form around the city. Beginning with the Chase area and into the Southeast, and to the South in that manner. The mobilization of crews and things like that all play into the construction of it."

It is not a guarantee that Google Fiber will come in as soon as Huntsville Utilities completes an area, but once Huntsville Utilities builds out it means the stage is set for providers to come in.

It has not been easy to construct fiber infrastructure this quickly.

"It has been very challenging for our staff, and our engineering group, and our construction group," he said. "It has been fun, but it's just difficult."

Why did they build out North and Northwest Huntsville areas first?

"It has a lot of overhead, and that was something we could get somewhat of a fast build on," said Owens. "That way, we could get the project going."

It wasn't just ease or convenience that went into that decision. Economic development also played a role.

"We've got the North Huntsville industrial park, we've got the Chase industrial park, in that market out there. Should be good for that area."

Once Huntsville is built out, the hope is to continue the network on into the Huntsville Utilities coverage area.

"Hopefully we will develop this model and it would be our desire to move it out into the county," said Owens.