Free Fiber Lunch!

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Willy Wonka has nothing on the Google guys.

The Googlers’ promise to build a 1-Gbps fiber-to-the-home network touched off a Golden Ticket frenzy among U.S. towns and municipalities over the last six weeks. Last Friday morning, the deadline for submissions, Google reported that north of 600 communities had applied to serve as guinea pigs for the free “experimental” fiber build — but by the end of the day, the final tally stood at more than 1,100.

Some have interpreted the Google PR stunt as evidence that millions of Americans are desperate for gobs of more bandwidth, and that incumbent cable and telcos simply aren’t delivering on the demand. (GigaOm’s Stacey Higginbotham says Google’s largesse should “embarrass the ISPs and the government.”)

But let’s get real. Google is not trying to build a business or recoup its fiber investment — this is a pure publicity and lobbying ploy. If anybody learns something actually useful from revving up 1-Gbps concept cars, so much the better (see Behind Google’s Broadband Strategy and Google’s Potemkin Broadband Villages).

There’s a simpler explanation for why local governments have gone gonzo for Google: People love free stuff. Politicians like to get credit for bringing their constituents free stuff. Especially expensive goodies, like a 1-Gbps fiber-to-the-home network that otherwise would not be funded by a rational investor.

Below is a map provided by Google showing where the 1,100-plus responses were concentrated. According to the Internet company: “Each small dot represents a government response, and each large dot represents locations where more than 1,000 residents submitted a nomination. We plan to share a complete list of government responses and an updated map soon.”

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