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.