Google Fiber Announces Layoffs & Deployment Pause, Will Likely Pivot To Wireless

from the build-it-and-they-won't-come dept

Back in August a report emerged claiming that Google Fiber executives were having some second thoughts about this whole “building a nationwide fiber network from the ground up” thing. More specifically, the report suggested that some executives were disappointed with the slow pace of digging fiber trenches, and were becoming bullish on the idea of using next-gen wireless to supplement fiber after acquiring fixed wireless provider Webpass. As such, the report said the company was pondering some staff reductions, some executive changes, and a bit of a pivot.

Fast forward to this week when Access CEO Craig Barrett posted a cheery but ambiguous blog post not only formally announcing most of these changes, but his own resignation as CEO. According to Barrett, Google will continue to serve and expand Google Fiber’s existing markets (Austin, Atlanta, Charlotte, Kansas City, Nashville, Provo, Salt Lake City, and The Triangle in North Carolina), and will also build out previously-announced but not yet started efforts in Huntsville, Alabama; San Antonio, Texas; Louisville, Kentucky; and Irvine, California.

From there, the direction Google Fiber will be headed gets murky. According to Barrett, Google has paused (read: killed) potential deployments in cities where Google Fiber had been having conversations, but hadn’t yet given the green light for full deployment (Portland, Chicago, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, San Diego, San Jose, and Tampa). Most of the layoffs will be in these cities, notes Barrett:

“For most of our ?potential Fiber cities? ? those where we?ve been in exploratory discussions ? we?re going to pause our operations and offices while we refine our approaches. We?re ever grateful to these cities for their ongoing partnership and patience, and we?re confident we?ll have an opportunity to resume our partnership discussions once we?ve advanced our technologies and solutions. In this handful of cities that are still in an exploratory stage, and in certain related areas of our supporting operations, we?ll be reducing our employee base.”

A report over at Bloomberg notes that about 9% of employees at Access (which covers multiple projects, not just Google Fiber) will be let go, which is notably fewer staff reductions than last summer’s report had suggested. Bloomberg’s insiders also claim that there have been some rifts among executives at Google/Alphabet/Access over whether to remain dedicated to the laborious process of fiber installations, or to pivot more completely to wireless:

“Moving into big cities was a contentious point inside Google Fiber, according to one former executive. Leaders like Barratt and Dennis Kish, who runs Google Fiber day-to-day, pushed for the big expansion. Others pushed back because of the prohibitive cost of digging up streets to lay fiber-optic cables across some of America?s busiest cities.”

That there’s some hesitation isn’t surprising. Not only is building a fiber network from the ground up incredibly hard, expensive, and time consuming, the telecom industry is awash with deep pocketed incumbents intent on making things as difficult as possible for competitors like Google Fiber (and downright impossible for smaller ISPs). From AT&T suing cities to thwart attempts to streamline utility pole attachments, to incumbent ISPs writing awful state law prohibiting public/private partnerships, telecom can certainly be a cesspool of protectionism of the worst sort.

While these incumbent ISPs (and their armies of paid policy mouthpieces) will likely spend the next few weeks celebrating the “death of Google Fiber,” there’s nothing stopping the company from pivoting to next-generation wireless. Google has filed applications with the FCC to conduct trials in the 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz millimeter wave bands, and is also conducting a variety of different tests in the 3.5 GHz band, the 5.8 GHz band and the 24 GHz band. That said, it certainly remains possible that at some point Google gets tired of ramming its head against VerizoCasT&T and sells the project off in a few years, leaving us with another sad historical footnote in the often pitiful national quest for something vaguely resembling broadband competition.

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Companies: access, alphabet, google

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Comments on “Google Fiber Announces Layoffs & Deployment Pause, Will Likely Pivot To Wireless”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Looks like the only option is for telcos’ greed ends up causing/piling on the next great recession to finally force the Federal to start cracking down on this. We need to start flooding Congress with mail that tells them bowing to telcos will lead to or exacerbate the coming great recession (ie no to poor internet = poor business).

…Well who knows. Perhaps if ATT and others of its ilk go bankrupt perhaps the market will slowly get unscrewed. Barring Congress doesn’t rescue them because “too big to fail” like the great recession of 2008 had numerous big banks rescued of course.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think the real problem is the legal abuses on their own. This is also something many other countries are dealing with. The future of internet is thought to be wireless. Today there is a shared standard for wireless internet and if they can get that to work with somewhat acceptable incumbent deals, USA avoids most of the expensive every infrastructure by itself and can start to provide more competition.

Don’t get me wrong, the owner of the physical infrastructure will still hold a monopoly that needs FTC-awareness, but at least they will start to get pressured on the service-level.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Wireless is not the best option for high density urban areas, and especially not for delivering multiple HD or $K video streams to a building such as an apartment block. That said using wireless and cable (as in TV) is the best way that combined ISP and content providers have for manipulating the market to their benefit.

Anonymous Coward says:

This doesn’t surprise me, but it’s still bittersweet news. Laying miles and miles of fiber was an expensive proposition, and not likely the future of broadband infrastructure. Wireless does seem to be the future, though I wonder what direction will choose to go.

5G (and beyond) seems to be the likely choice, though I am still very intrigued by Chet Kanojia’s new project, Starry (he being of Aero fame). The concept seems out there, but based on what he delivered with Aero I have little reason to doubt it technically works. Perhaps an acquisition by Alphabet is just what the two companies need to finally unseat traditional telco’s from their throne.

Anonymous Coward says:

I used to think Google could stand up to anyone. That they were *the* company for hackers and those for hacker culture back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s

Now it’s 2016 and they can’t stand up to a company less than a third of its size who cultural values are diametrically opposed to much of hacker culture and many of the subcultures its spawned.

No wonder they can’t do a damn thing about the NSA. They’re so pathetic and ineffective they can’t even stand up to a company 1/3rd of its size, let alone the vanguard of the dehumanizing surveillance state.

Talk about a letdown. Maybe it was folly for 14-year-old me to trust Google. It was certainly folly to maintain trust for a decade-and-a-half following.

I hate that I placed so much of my trust in them growing up. I truly do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think that the big problem Google is having is the ‘final mile’ where they have to share poles with the incumbents. Until they can connect to their customers, and wireless is probably their easiest option given the opposition of the incumbents, there is little point in running in the back haul, as until the get to cover the final mile, it is just dark fiber in the ground..

Anonymous Coward says:

As much I hate the current ISP and was looking forward to fiber, the actions of Google as of late instead have made me feel a bit relieved. Whereas I use to actually believe in the idealism of “Don’t be evil” mantra especially after its departure from China(sorta), now I see it trending towards being like any other company.

While I understand things like Content ID and copyright strikes are needed, in the interim until we can get sensible copyright laws(hah), the fact that its way to much favor the accusers without any accountability disgust me. If they went that willing to go that far for copyright accusers they should at the least in good faith compensate for the lost of revenue to the actual content creator who had their ad money literally stolen from them by either billing the accuser or paying out of their own pockets. Unfortunately, they don’t have to and chosen not to, so the grievance stands.

Then they have the Orwellian “YouTube Heroes” program no doubt pushed by a bunch of Liberal Arts Degree losers, who somehow managed to convince another corporation to install a “Trust and Safety Council”. The same bunch who thinks Twitter is to soft on hate speech as if they are not already diving off the financial deep end to please these people. San Fransisco is fucking crazy right now… or at least much crazier then usual.

So if Googles is trending towards becoming Dicks and the current ISPs are dicks, why would I be not want more competition in that area? Because I, along with the rest of us, have surrender way more information about ourselves(who has unique passwords for example) for a ton of conveniences. I have also done similar things with my ISP, bank, etc. I am willing to live with a bunch of smaller evil then one big one. God help us if we ever end up with a Google-Comcast-EA-BoA-ETC.

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