The Salt Lake Tribune reports today that Google had a few UTOPIA executives come out to their offices last month to discuss how UTOPIA operates. The article insinuates that this may mean that UTOPIA is near the top of the heap in Google’s search for a location to build a fiber-optic network. As tantalizing as that possibility is, I don’t think there’s evidence enough to support it.
Google would obviously be interested in how UTOPIA operates regardless of if they are a finalist. UTOPIA’s model is very, very close to what Google wants to do and it is in their best interests to learn what does and doesn’t work on an open-access wholesale fiber-to-the-premises network. I think UTOPIA would be an excellent partner for Google, but nobody yet knows if Google is interested in expanding an existing project (or one already in progress) or taking the steps to create one from scratch using the best practices of what’s already been tried. That alone could make or break any potential deal between the two parties.
Google may also not want to step into such a partnership because of the complexities of determining who owns what. While I believe them to be an honorable company that tries to do the right thing more often than not (despite, on occasion, stepping in it), they are likely going to want some interest in whatever the finished product may be and potentially a controlling one. Cities that have already sunk a bunch of time, energy, and money into it may not be so willing to let go of the reins.
I know there is a lot of excitement about a company of Google’s stature dropping a fat wad of cash on crazy-fast pipes, but we should try tempering that with a realistic perspective. It’s simply too soon to tell who Google will choose to work with.