We've Entered The Age Of 'Fiber To The Press Release'

from the make-believe-bits dept

Google Fiber's entry into the broadband market has done a lot of great things, especially if you're one of only a few people who can actually get a 1 Gbps connection for $70 a month. While the actual launch is slow moving and small, Google's intention was always to create a louder national dialogue about the fairly pathetic state of broadband competition, and the sorts of protectionist laws incumbent ISPs have managed to pass in more than twenty states. That's not to say Google fiber doesn't have problems, like Google's decision to back away from offering an open access model where multiple ISPs are invited in over the top to compete. Google Fiber also isn't answering the age old question of how you get broadband to lower income neighborhoods.

While Google Fiber has managed to get ISPs to compete in the areas it's deployed, the project has also managed to spawn a new, misleading but entertaining phenomenon I've affectionately labeled "fiber to the press release." In a fiber to the press release deployment, a carrier (usually one with a history of doing the bare minimum on upgrades) proudly proclaims that they too will soon be offering 1 Gbps broadband. The announcement will contain absolutely no hard specifics on how many people will get the upgrades, but the press will happily parrot the announcement and state that "ISP X" has suddenly joined the ultra-fast broadband race. Why spend money on a significant deployment when you can have the press help you pretend you did?

One case in point is AT&T, which soon after Google Fiber's launch announcement in Austin, declared that it too would be offering 1 Gbps in Austin under the GigaPower brand. Taking things one step further, AT&T proclaimed that it had always planned to offer 1 Gbps fiber in Austin (most customers remain on 6 Mbps DSL, and a select few can actually get their top speed of 45 Mbps) and that the timing of its announcement was just a coincidence. Hard details of actual deployment stats are impossible to find, outside of the fact that AT&T wants to charge users a $30 premium if you don't want to be spied on by its deep packet inspection hardware. AT&T this week proudly proclaimed its fiber to the press release efforts would be expanding into Dallas:
"We are redirecting VIP investment to fiber to the home deployment, and in fact we are going to launch the service in Dallas this summer," stated Stephenson. "...You are going to see other communities as we begin to deploy this technology emerge around the United States," said the CEO, adding that the company was going to be a "little more aggressive and assertive in deploying that technology around the country."
When? How many customers? Timelines? Who cares! The fun part is that while AT&T's CEO is using words like "aggressive" and "assertive" when describing the effort publicly, he's also on record publicly telling investors that these efforts should have "no material impact" on CAPEX and spending. How is that possible? Because all AT&T is really doing is bumping speeds to select high-end development communities where they've already run fiber during construction, but kept those lines capped at DSL speeds. Bump a handful of those users to 1 Gbps, maybe run a few lines to large apartment complexes, hold some PR junkets, and you look like you're on the cutting edge of broadband deployment and aren't being out-performed in your home state by -- a search engine company.

AT&T's fiber to the press release, however dismal it is, is actually more substantive than many I've seen. Hoping to grab some Google Fiber buzz, Alaska cable operator GCI launched a new brand called "fiber re:D" that, according to their FAQ, might actually result in somebody getting 1 Gbps broadband sometime in 2015. To prove it, they've got a supposed deployment map that shows you absolutely nothing. CenturyLink is another company that is happily crowing that it's offering 1 Gbps service to "select communities" (check out their ads), hoping you'll ignore the fact that the vast majority of its customers are "lucky" to have 3 Mbps DSL with a 150 GB per month cap -- and likely won't be upgraded any time soon.

Generally these efforts all now follow the same pattern: deploy actual fiber to a handful of businesses and a few high-end developments (if that), dress the effort up in a layer of public relations paint that makes it look like an aggressive, significant deployment (how about some Google-esque videos!), then pretend that you're not actually lagging horribly on broadband upgrades courtesy of limited competition. Most companies have taken some PR cues from Google as well, usually pretending that communities can "vote" democratically on who gets upgraded next (like Google's "fiberhood" rallies), even if, unlike Google Fiber, the upgrade locations are usually determined well in advance based on which upscale communities already had fiber buried in the ground.

For minimal effort, fiber to the press release generates a huge amount of national press about how cutting edge your company is, at a tiny fraction of the cost required to actually upgrade your network. Publicly, your company gets to look like it's a highly flexible, competitive juggernaut, while privately the company gets to remain apathetically and comfortably ensconced in the same, uncompetitive duopoly market it has always enjoyed.

Reader Comments (rss)

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    Ninja (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 4:11am

    I think the outcome will be different this time. At least regarding the general public perception. Given the visibility that Google gave to the issue it won't take long till the people start seeing through the ISPs bullshit. I just wonder if this will translate to some practical measure to improve the broadband scenario in the end. The cynical me says it's more of the same ;)

     

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      hobo, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:35am

      Re:

      I really want to believe in your optimism.. "it won't take long till the people start seeing through the ISPs bullshit," but I cannot.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 6:08am

    We need more people in this country to actively consider municipally owned/operated broadband. Any cried of 'OMG Socialism' will be met with 'OMG you have no clue what you're talking about'

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 6:13am

      Re:

      No, you call it, 'OMG, Capitalism done right!' and mock the excesses of the big telcos and their inaction.

       

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      mcinsand, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 6:23am

      look at what is messing up our current situation

      Actually, I do have a clue as to what I'm talking about, although it sounds like you certainly don't. Broadband is ridiculously expensive because governments are so deeply in bed with the telcos. If you're getting sick from drinking poison, drinking more poison isn't going to help. No-one studying history will believe that we can make a commodity cheaper by having more legislation. We might be able to make it safer and possibly more secure, but not more affordable. Did you ever wonder why we pay so much more for things like sugar than citizens of any other country in the world? Price supports!

      We need to find a way to stop our governments from protecting monopolies and duopolies. Unless you want to double or triple your internet monthly fees, the last thing that you want is to give them full control of a monopoly.

       

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        Jay (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:13am

        Re: look at what is messing up our current situation

        How about having a publicly owned internet which communities are responsible for?

        IE, exactly what mcinsand was taking about.

         

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        nasch (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:53am

        Re: look at what is messing up our current situation

        Unless you want to double or triple your internet monthly fees, the last thing that you want is to give them full control of a monopoly.

        The local governments should own the infrastructure and let companies compete to offer service on it.

         

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        E. Zachary Knight (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 8:16am

        Re: look at what is messing up our current situation

        The problem with Telco competition is that it is not a startup friendly business. The costs associated with creating a telco are so insurmountable that you need a very large upfront investment to do it.

        There are some solutions to this, but few are going to result in cheap internet for communities.

        One possible solution, and probably the best solution at this time, is for communities to pay for the costs to lay the fiber, then contract access out to any company that wants to set up service. All the local government would be doing in that case is maintaining the integrity of the lines. Private businesses would be handling the actual service. This scenario is much more friendly to telco startups.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 6:32am

    I have Google Fiber, and I'm not going to lie, it's the most amazing thing ever. Imagine having the moistest, most succulently delicious chocolate cake ever put on a plate in front of you, and then someone hands you a fork and says "go ahead, it's ok, take a bite. Take all the bites!". Well, it's better than that. I'll never leave Kansas City, ever. I've seen the top of Mount Olympus and feasted with the gods.

    Everything else might as well be dial-up in comparison.

    The existing providers have a reason to be worried. Once you get a taste of what's possible, everything else is ash in your mouth. It's not surprising that they are doing everything they can to slow the tide. If I were them I'd be putting out press release after press release on how my existing customers will be getting better service Any Day Now!(tm).

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 6:54am

    Pet hate

    I think we now have the internet speeds to actually state the measurement in the form we receive the data.

    Google = 119 MB/s



    CenturyLink is another company, hoping you'll ignore the fact that the vast majority of its customers are "lucky" to have 3 Mbps DSL


    0.35 MB/s sounds terrible but is made to sound good by the 3Mb.

     

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    Patrick, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:03am

    Lack of density

    Looking back at a former life, I can see why many ISP's don't want to run fiber everywhere. It's expensive to trench everywhere in America (we do have a lot of land), to be able to support 1Gbps requires a lot larger pipes on the back-end, ROI is not found in terms of months...it's years, and investors like fat profit margins (gotta love capitalism).

    For national ISP's it's all about the money, the problem is people won't got from spending say $50/month to $100/month just because it's fiber. With local monopolies, there is little reason to change the current cash-cow model.

    While bashed heavily the current cable providers can provide a few hundred Mbps of connectivity without having to touch the last mile (outside of modems potentially). Which is a huge cash savings, however it does require they upgrade their backend pipes to handle the load, granted this is often switching out long-range optics which is pretty cheap to the current hardware doesn't support 40/100GB uplinks which requires a significant switching/routing upgrade.

     

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      That One Guy (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 11:02am

      Re: Lack of density

      Now see, I might buy that excuse, that of 'it's crazy expensive to build', if the various ISP's hadn't, over the years, gotten massive incentives and tax-breaks specifically in order to build and maintain those networks... incentives that they then turned right around, counted as profit, and gave out vague 'we'll get to it eventually' responses when the subject was brought up.

       

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    Brad, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:39am

    TWC Commercials Too

    Granted I haven't seen them advertise 1Gb, they do love to taunt their 'amazingly fast' 100Mb connection which has extremely limited availability. I don't get what they're benefiting by advertising speeds in areas they don't offer it. It should be illegal. Then again, if that was the case, T-Mobile wouldn't have much of a midwest audience at all.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:42am

    makes me want to start my own company:

    1GB wired to your desktop, 54MB wireless to your laptop or cell phone with the service my company provides. For a small fee, we will install, in your home, a device capable of utilizing your private local internet at blazing 1GB (or more) speeds. Stream video from your bedroom to your living room. Watch up to a quite a few movies at the same time. Communicate with people all over the world at bottleneck speeds using equipment from ATT.

    Investors wanted now!

     

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    jupiterkansas (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 8:05am

    Google hasn't penetrated the most impoverished parts of Kansas City, but what they're offering is far better than anyone else. It's basic internet access for $4/month over seven years. That's a lot better than providers who have been here for decades have ever offered.

    Once the city is fibered up, initiatives to reach rental and low income households will be more feasible, but it's understandable that it's not their focus right now.

    However, the way they rolled things out definitely made the economic landscape of the city visible. It's been quite a show.

     

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    Bengie, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 8:28am

    because fiber is cheaper

    "he's also on record publicly telling investors that these efforts should have "no material impact" on CAPEX and spending. How is that possible?"

    FTTH has a 20% lower CAPEX than FTTN or even FTTC and FTTH costs as much as upgrading FTTN or FTTC.

    I can easily see how it does not affect anything because fiber is crazy cheap compared to other upgrade options.

    The only time copper is cheaper is if you've already paid off your existing infrastructure and are NOT upgrading it. Even then, fiber is cheaper to maintain and operate.

     

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    Chris Brand, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 9:25am

    "Release" ?

    Surely "Fiber to the Press" is more descriptive. The "Release" is the trench in the ground that gets it to the press, which is the endpoint. Plus, "FTTP" is catchy...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 10:01am

    Metamucil to the Press,Release

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2014 @ 2:58am

    The press is the conduit not the target

    I see several different targets of these "me too" fiber announcements.

    First, they're designed to reassure skittish stockholders, saying loudly that they'll challenge new entrants to the market. (You gotta fight for your right to party - with that monopoly money.) in other words, it's a cheap way to prop up the stock price.

    Second, it's intended to signal to regulators and legislators that the status quo is OK, that the invisible hand of the market is taking care of things with real change and that the public perception of a stagnant monopolistic swamp isn't real. In other words, propaganda to preclude meaningful oversight of the industry.

     

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