The Google Fiber Honeymoon Period Appears To Be Over

from the the-disruption-that-only-half-arrived dept

When Google Fiber first arrived back in 2010, it was heralded as a gamechanger for the broadband industry. Google Fiber would, we believed, 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; with the mere mention of a looming Google Fiber target market resulting in a much-needed conversation about why the United States consistently languishes in mediocrity when it comes to our broadband networks (pro tip: it's because AT&T, Verizon and Comcast all but own state and federal lawmakers).

Seven years later, however, and the Google Fiber bloom appears to be off the rose. There's little doubt that Google Fiber brought some much-needed competition to countless markets, driving down costs and spurring deployment of gigabit networks in key areas (though these benefits are often over-hyped, and broadband competition in countless markets is actually getting worse). There's also no doubt that Google Fiber has been of great benefit to disadvantaged communities, thanks to free deployment of gigabit broadband to anchor institutions and low-income housing developments.

That said, the company has gone through two CEOs in a matter of months, laid off an unspecified number of employees during a restructuring last fall, and has begun to show signs that the company's dedication to the project is wavering at best, and notably derailed at worst. Reports began to circulate last fall that high-level Alphabet execs were bored with the slow pace and high cost of fiber deployment, and were considering pivoting the entire Google Fiber business model to wireless. But the company's messaging regarding this transition has been anything but clear, only driving unease among those waiting for the promised revolution.

Kansas City, Google Fiber's first launch market, was hyped as nothing short of a looming connectivity Utopia at launch. But the better part of a decade later and many locals say Google Fiber has cancelled their installations after years of waiting. And one Kansas City local made headlines recently when she revealed that the company cancelled her broadband service over a 12 cent dispute, a rather Comcast-esque failure by the company. And a local Motherboard report highlighted further how the honeymoon phase of Google Fiber is most decidedly at an end:

"Kansas City expected to become Google's glittering example of a futuristic gig-city: Half a decade later, there are examples of how Fiber benefitted KC, and stories about how it fell short. Thousands of customers will likely never get the chance to access the infrastructure they rallied behind, and many communities are still without any broadband access at all. Many are now left wondering: is that it?

"We were saying that in all likelihood this is too good to be true," said Isaac Wilder, co-founder of the Free Network Foundation and a Kansas City native..."Lo and behold, just a few years later and it's beginning to become clear that [Google Fiber] was just a lot of lip service," Wilder told me.

To be clear a lot of Google Fiber's problems are not the company's fault. AT&T, Comcast, and Charter have filed numerous nuisance lawsuits designed to slow the company's use of city and telco-owned utility poles, and protectionist state laws pushed by these same companies often hinder attempts at public/private partnerships with cities. Meanwhile, the company's murky messaging is in part thanks to the fact that Google Fiber has so many various wireless experiments in the oven, it's not really sure which of these technologies are going to pan out -- making publicly communicating the project's future direction a notable challenge.

That said, Google Fiber's momentum stall comes as Alphabet and Google as a whole are notably veering away from some of the more revolutionary traits that characterized the company a decade ago. Much like the way Google's net neutrality support has magically all-but-dissappeared during this period, numerous reports have indicated that there's a contingent of executives at Alphabet like Larry Page that frankly just got bored by the whole costly telecom disruption thing.

In short, it's possible that Google Fiber successfully pivots to next-generation wireless and fulfills at least some of the lofty promises made early on in the Google Fiber life cycle. But based on the conversations I've had with industry insiders, there would be little surprise if in a few years Google Fiber sold off the entire project to a second-tier telco like CenturyLink, then shifted its focus -- like countless hugely-successful giants before it -- more toward turf protection of its legacy markets.

Filed Under: competition, google fiber, kansas city
Companies: google

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  1. icon
    seedeevee (profile), 14 Sep 2017 @ 10:01am

    "Google Fiber brought some much-needed competition to countless markets"

    Dud someone never learn how to count?

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