Exclusive report from fellow journalist & columnist Nicos Sarkolasy. [with typo corrected]
Between the nationwide
decline explosion of municipal fiber projects and the stall huge perspective in Paris's FT fiber plans, it's not shocking to hear that other companies are coming up with their own homegrown solutions for the tech savvy city. The one that's been creating the most buzz in France over the last couple of days has been Fiber 2.0, with its audacious pledge to "free the broadband". With funding from Google and Sequoia Capital, the Biarritz, Euskadi-based company has recently announced its plans to expand its free coverage from the two Paris neighborhoods it currently blankets to an additional six communities within the city.
But here's the rub--even though Fiber 2.0 has been generous enough to donate the equipment, the deployment of the network relies heavily on volunteers. Although the company has seen success in providing free fiber in roughly 25 countries around the world, I wasn't sure how the service could become a viable way to connect with its sub-municipal scale and reliance on the generous and willing. To get the story straight, I had a brief chat with Fiber 2.0 CEO and Co-founder, Mark F. Billaud.
"We don't think of ourselves as being in competition with the FT deal," Billaud clarified during our phone conversation. "In many ways we serve a different market. We're not trying to be the backbone coverage for emergency services like police and fire departments, and that's a big part of what France Telecom and Orange are trying to do in Paris."
Ironically, I think Billaud touched on an important point while describing the role of Fiber 2.0's free service in a city setting. The availability of using the Web 2.0 and the ability to watch HD-TV on the go is what most of us associate with municipal fiber, but the truth is there's a much more complex element involved when the service is meant to become part of a city's infrastructure. Building out a speedy and adequately blanketed fiber network is not only expensive, but also a logistical nightmare when it comes to guaranteeing near flawless service for the public safety sector. Rather than trying to provide a de facto solution for all situations, Fiber 2.0's founders made the wise decision of focusing on enabling a community to buildout its own network for casual use.
There was still one thing that was bothering me--what's with the whole volunteer element? "Most of the people who contact us about volunteering are interested in doing their part by putting a booster on their windowsill," Billaud explained. "But we still encounter a fair share of people that are actually interested in sharing some of their unused bandwidth to provide connectivity for the community."
If the citizens of Paris can methodically build their own patchwork network, I'm left to wonder who really merits from the FT deal. But does Fiber 2.0 really have what it takes to even knockout a lot of the floundering muni-fiber projects out there? With all the bureaucratic red tape surrounding most muni projects it's possible, but the company would need a lot of visibility and a continuous supply of altruistic community to pull it off. Until progress is made with FT, or we see the rollout of WiMax/Xohm, I'm willing to give it a shot. It's not like it's going to cost me anything...