Google Fiber Has Accomplished More For Broadband Than Our National Broadband Plan Ever Did

from the the-best-laid-plans dept

Back in 2010 under the leadership of Julius Genachowski, the FCC released a “national broadband plan.” While it did help subsidize some middle and last mile rural deployment and directed the FCC to actually start using real world data to make policy decisions (ingenious!), it somehow managed to float like a butterfly over the U.S. broadband industry’s biggest and most glaring problem: the lack of broadband competition. Even the agency’s $300 million broadband coverage map birthed by the plan couldn’t be bothered to actually list broadband service pricing, lest site visitors conclude that they’re paying too much for too little.

As the years ticked by, it became increasingly clear many of the plan’s action items were little more than political show ponies, paying empty lip service to issues like the digital divide, with ankle-high “goals” the government knew full well would have been achieved without government lifting a finger. Even the plan’s architect Blair Levin has acknowledged the FCC was quick to offer a “one-note narrative of self-praise,” instead of disrupting the status quo. Basically, it took 36 public workshops, 9 field hearings, 31 public notices and 376 pages to create the illusion the government was doing something about the nation’s rotten duopoly problem.

Hindsight now has many people realizing that a search giant with bottomless pockets probably did more for broadband in the last five years than our massive national broadband plan ever did. Google Fiber’s deployment of symmetrical gigabit service for $70 a month has helped drive a new national conversation about broadband competition. It has also driven a number of previously sleepy, uncompetitive ISPs to drive upgrades users wouldn’t have seen otherwise. And as MIT Technology Review notes, it’s kind of miraculous that Google Fiber happened at all:

“The unnerving thing is that so much of the present and future of broadband has come down to the whims of a single company, and a company that, in many ways, doesn?t look or act much like most American firms. If Google didn?t have such a dominant position in search and online advertising, giving it the resources to make big investments without any requirement of immediate return, Google Fiber wouldn?t have happened. And if Google?s leadership weren?t willing to make big long-term investments in projects outside the core business, or if the company didn?t have a dual-share structure that preserved its founders? power and somewhat insulated its executives from Wall Street pressure, gigabit connections would more than likely be a fantasy in the United States today.”

Of course, while Google Fiber has received endless media adoration, the actual hard deployment impact is currently tiny, with only a few thousand users in Kansas City and Provo actually currently getting service (though Austin, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham builds are underway). A lot of the incumbent ISP response to Google Fiber has similarly been rather theatrical in nature (“fiber to the press release“), with carriers offering gigabit speeds to a few high-end housing developments and then pretending they’re revolutionizing the broadband space, while millions of consumers remain stuck on sub 6 Mbps, $60 DSL lines with 150 GB monthly usage caps.

So make no mistake: the lack of competition is still a huge problem.

But Google Fiber’s most important contribution has been two-fold. One, as Google intended, Google Fiber placed a huge, national spotlight on the nation’s broadband market failures. Cities clamored on top of one another to be the next in line for service, every paper in the nation highlighting simultanesouly that the service they received from the regional duopoly simply wasn’t very good, and that we could do something about it. Two, Google Fiber also brought the public’s attention to an issue that most had spent the last decade ignoring: the fact that ISPs have spent the last fifteen years gleefully writing horrible protectionist state laws designed to protect their regional fiefdoms from the competition bogeyman.

Contrary to what some will say, the botched national broadband plan was not necessarily the fault of “government,” just shitty government. Former FCC boss Genachowski was a professional fence sitter; so afraid of making tough policy decisions he’d make no decision at all, often dressing that inaction up as a mammoth accomplishment. It’s easily arguable that current FCC boss Tom Wheeler has accomplished more for broadband in a little over a year in office (net neutrality and Title II reclassification, municipal broadband, and a notable crackdown on ISP fraud) than the last three FCC bosses combined.

But the real lesson from the last five years is that it was a collaboration between sensible, balanced regulation, risk-taking private industry and grass roots citizen activism that finally pushed the needle on broadband after fifteen years of dysfunction, which is how it’s supposed to work when you’re not (quite intentionally) distracted by a nasty case of partisan nitwit disease. Wheeler’s building a basic framework to protect consumers in the absence of vibrant competition, Google Fiber’s applying some much needed competition to apathetic incumbents, and municipal broadband operations are trying to shore up coverage and competition gaps in markets the incumbent providers couldn’t care less about.

That seems notably more constructive than our broadband policies of the fifteen years prior, which vacillated between devising wimpy, elaborate plans that accomplished little to nothing, willfully pretending the broadband market wasn’t broken, and proudly declaring that if we just left AT&T, Comcast and Verizon alone — they’d collectively build us a magic free-market broadband Utopia powered by rainbows and puppy love.

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Comments on “Google Fiber Has Accomplished More For Broadband Than Our National Broadband Plan Ever Did”

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40 Comments
Most Obvious Shilling Ever says:

Of all the topics in the world, you're back to flacking Google Fiber! Next will be the Russian propaganda again!

This is remarkably crude, obvious, and repetitive propaganda, even for a Techdirt minion.

Just blank out all other industry investments and spread of tech to give all credit for the last ten years to Google! Only good sign is my mockery has made you state that it’s a TINY deployment…

People: take the Copia link on any Techdirt page to see the direct connection between Google and this soppy puff-piece.

kyle (profile) says:

Re: Of all the topics in the world, you're back to flacking Google Fiber! Next will be the Russian propaganda again!

Totally agree. Karl does nothing but promote the Google Fiber BS and hopes that one day they will become the next ILEC/MSO so he can bash them as the does everyone else that doesn’t agree with him. Don’t go to BBR though and state anything. He will ban you from there as well. Only the sheeple are allowed there and those that pay. Don’t pay don’t post. Don’t believe- can’t post. Want to promote your business on those pages- you can only promote if you’re part of the MLM marketing groups.

Karl is a joke and so is his “reports/news”.

Anonymous Coward says:

after all the good things (and a couple of bad things too), it has done, is it any wonder that Google is hated so much by governments, security forces and giant corporations/industries? not only does it inspire and inflict competition where there was nothing but apathy, it invents things itself to charge markets and get them thinking, planing and developing!

for the most part, well done Google! just dont go along with this damn spying, for yourself or anyone else!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Fiber where?

Google has made an impact if you live in urban areas. But the impact for rural areas has been literally 0. Rural areas are not in the shape they are because of a lack of competition. They lack any willing to invest anything whatsoever. Google has proven to be no different when it comes to investing in rural areas.

Namel3ss (profile) says:

Re: Fiber where?

In general I agree with you, that rural areas are mostly no better off than before Google. But like Karl said, what Google has done is kick the incumbents in the nads and make them compete at least a little bit, no matter how lame and uninspired said competition is.

Also to show the rest of the country how much better their service could be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Fiber where?

…Google has made an impact if you live in urban areas…

Well I live in an urban area and I’d LOVE a shakeup of any kind for my internet access. The only ‘improvement’ I’ve seen is the price increasing such that I’m now paying almost double what I was paying 5 years ago. The performance: no difference!

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Fiber where?

“impact for rural areas has been literally 0”

You’re mostly correct. But a little wrong.

Rural citizens clamoring for universal service have every reason to do so. But for the most part:

– the contrast between our pitiful urban broadband speeds haven’t been that different from your pitiful rural speeds.

-The contrast between our 1-2 providers hasn’t been that different from your 0-2 providers.

NOW, if city slickers got 1GB connections, and you still had your lame satellite connection…well, then, you’d have a real case to argue that you are relatively disadvantaged, and need some love from the FCC and Universal Service Fund. Rural areas will always get broadband enhancements AFTER the urban areas. It will be through demanding gov’t intervention that economically unattractive regions get upgraded.

But also, if ruralites get to enjoy the open spaces, less traffic, fresh air, less noise from neighbors, less crime, less graffiti, less litter, etc….Well, you also get to enjoy fewer shops, fewer services, slower broadband, etc. Has it ever been any different for humanity?

Choice says:

Re: Fiber where?

It takes time and motivation to get “new” technology to the fringes. If you chose to live on the edge, expect to wait for higher speeds or build them out locally without the cooperation of the local ISPs. It was the same with general phone services, took time but happened eventually.

Take a look at the digital issues the reservations in this country are dealing with – at least in the west. Some of them are willing to toss massive amounts of money to the incumbent ISPs for broad band (Navaho Nation for example) and ATT won’t even talk to them. I am betting they will be building out their own systems as soon as the BIA allows it. No other options to get broadband to the schools and local populations.

jim says:

Google!!!

I love them, it was dcma all the time…but their help with the trolls is very interesting. I have fast, service, for being at the end of a circuit, Google cannot help that. But the faster stream means fewer pauses. When I visit other locals, their service is damned shitty. View pause even in the commercials. That shitty. Plus it doesn’t go out with the trees, its underground, even in areas where the others were offered the option of being underground. One square foot less to mow. And now that all streams go to Provo, as well as the main outlet, fiber does do it faster for me.

leehb9 (profile) says:

Major Innovation Needed...

It’s been obvious for a while that it will take a MAJOR innovation to get our isp’s up off their asses and actually do something.

Hopefully, Elon Musk is holding part of the solution! If he can actually get some of his satellites up into orbit anytime in the next year or two, that could provide the competitive challenge the isp’s need to finally get their shit together!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Major Innovation Needed...

Innovation? Not necessarily, simply adding in some real competition would fix a lot of the problems, which is one of the reasons the major broadband companies are fighting so hard to keep the protectionist laws they wrote and bought in the various states.

They know that if they actually have to compete, on price and service, that their obscene profits might actually take a hit, and they’ll fight that with everything they’ve got.

johnk26 (profile) says:

They started a movement

This week at Harvard Law, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society sponsored a symposium to introduce municipal fiber network success stories to other municipalities in Massachusetts. Google did kick start a lot of independent effort in our state, most notably South Hadley and Leverret. However, that was their only contribution.

The summary is as follows: The Feds and State built a backbone and middle mile; The laws of Mass. for telecomm are somewhat arcane; here are a list of folks to get you started navigating the politics and technology; the biggest problem is how to fund the infrastructure.

A very large percentage of Mass. towns were bypassed by the incumbents and there are several towns which the incumbents would like to abandon.

Many municipalities are moving forward using general obligation bonds.

The pointer to the handout: cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/broadband

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that the tactics used by the Rural Electrification Act in the early 1900s should be applied here. Estimates abound that suggest a federal stimulus of $150Billion ( a couple F35s ) would hook everybody up with fiber. The incumbents have bent the wording and the laws, most recently in NYC, to take subsidy and not deliver. My town is moving forward, one hurdle at a time and are especially happy to be in a state that allows this.

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