Google Fiber Broadband Hype Replaced By Delays And Frustration
from the in-limbo dept
When Google Fiber first arrived back in 2010, it was lauded as a game changer for the broadband industry. Google Fiber would, we were told, revolutionize the industry by taking Silicon Valley money and using it to disrupt the viciously uncompetitive and anti-competitive telecom sector. Initially things worked out well; cities tripped over themselves offering all manner of perks to the company in the hopes of breaking free from the broadband duopoly logjam. And in some areas where Google Fiber was deployed, prices certainly dropped thanks to Google Fiber market pressure.
But that was then, and this is now.
In late 2016 Alphabet made it clear that the company had grown bored with the high costs and slow pace of deploying fiber. The project has burned through several CEOs in just a year, laid off numerous employees, and the company ultimately announced it was considering a pivot to cheaper wireless technology. The problem: Google’s still conducting numerous tests in various spectrum bands (including millimeter wave), but doesn’t actually know what this replacement tech looks like yet. Meanwhile, the cities once promised a broadband revolution are seeing that hope replaced with annoyance and frustration.
While the company stated it would be putting any new builds on hold, it insisted that existing projects that were underway wouldn’t be impacted. That hasn’t proven to be the case, with users in initial launch markets like Kansas City saying their installations had been cancelled with no real explanation after years of waiting. That same song is also playing out in markets like Atlanta, where hope and excitement have shifted to something decidedly… different:
“It?s been more than three years since the Google Fiber frenzy took hold of the Atlanta area. From Alpharetta to Avondale Estates, Sandy Springs to Smyrna, folks fed up with chronically unreliable internet connections, abysmal customer service and expensive monthly bills lapped up Google Fiber?s promise….Google has released little public information about the Atlanta rollout delays, and company officials declined WABE?s multiple requests for an interview on the status of the project and other specifics.
Noting a trend yet? You’ll notice the same complaints in Austin, one of Google Fiber’s more robust builds, where locals point out that progress appears to have stopped for many users who say the technology was installed, but progress just magically ceased:
“Construction is complete. Equipment is installed. But a year later, a south Austin neighborhood says they’re still waiting on Google Fiber to actually work…Today, some residents say they can’t get a straight answer on what’s taking so long to access the high-speed internet…
Susan Speyer says when she was signing up for Google Fiber, she was told she’d have service in, “Just a few weeks to max three months.” And as the months passed, cable and internet bills with other providers, they say, have gone up. Neighbor Sherry Lowry adding, “It’s doubled since all of this started with Google.”
To be fair, Google’s PR folks can’t offer answers of what comes next because Google itself doesn’t know what the wireless technology that will supplant fiber will look like. But even Google’s wireless promises have been decidedly shaky. After acquiring urban wireless provider Webpass two years ago, some of that company’s coverage markets have actually shrunk, with the provider simply pulling out of cities like Boston without much explanation. And many of the executives that were part of that acquisition have “suddenly” departed for unspecified reasons.
At this point it’s certainly possible that once Google Fiber is done with its multi-year, numerous wireless tests it settles on a cheaper (but still expensive and time consuming) alternative to fiber. But as the company’s newfound apathy and steady retreat from net neutrality advocacy makes clear, this isn’t the same company Alphabet/Google was when this experiment started, and it remains entirely possible the entire project is scuttled or sold off as Google itself inevitably shifts from innovation and disruption to turf protection (especially with ISPs like Comcast and AT&T pushing harder into advertising).
Meanwhile, the broadband sector is actually getting less competitive than ever as the nation’s telcos give up on upgrading aging DSL lines, leaving the nation’s cable providers with greater regional monopolies than ever before. The fact that nobody wants to upgrade this nation’s already mediocre broadband infrastructure (because it’s not profitable enough, quickly enough for Wall Street) is a major reason more and more towns and cities are simply building their own broadband networks — assuming states haven’t banned them from doing so at large ISP behest.
Based on what we’re seeing lately, those hoping that Google still has the money, resources and willpower to shake the broadband sector out of its monopoly dysfunction probably shouldn’t hold their breath.