from the flying-saucer-shit dept
Back in October Google Fiber confirmed that all was not entirely well at the disruptive broadband provider. The company announced that not only would it be shaking up its executive leadership, it would be eliminating some Google Fiber employees and putting a hold on fiber deployment to around nine cities (existing builds will continue, however). There were several reasons for the shift, the biggest being that the company wasn’t happy with the time it was taking to build networks from scratch, and was considering a notable pivot to next-generation wireless to save both time and money.
But subsequent reports have suggested there’s a notable split among Google/Alphabet executives as to the future direction of Google Fiber. Bloomberg recently unveiled some additional new details on this, noting how part of the underlying issue is that Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat has been engaged in some purse string tightening at the Mountain View giant. But the report also touches on the fact that Larry Page apparently grew tired of the slow pace of disruption in the telecom space because digging ditches isn’t “flying saucer shit”:
“But seeking permits to lay fiber is time-consuming and digging holes expensive. Former employees say Page became frustrated with Fiber?s lack of progress. ?Larry just thought it wasn?t game-changing enough,? says a former Page adviser. ?There?s no flying-saucer shit in laying fiber.? In October the company announced that it was dismissing around 130 staffers and halting the expansion of the fiber network in eight cities. Barratt resigned that same day.”
In addition to navigating a labyrinthine maze of antiquated underground urban infrastructure, Google Fiber has faced all manner of delays caused by incumbent broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast, who work tooth and nail to hamstring Google Fiber and other competitors. From protectionist state laws intended to prevent cities from striking public/private partnerships, to attempts to prevent Google Fiber from quick access to utility poles, these companies have decades of experience using cash-compromised state legislators and regional regulatory capture against would-be competitors.
But this is all stuff Google Fiber knew full well before throwing its hat into the telecom arena. And while Page may not think that providing a desperately needed alternative to the existing broadband duopoly is “flying saucer shit,” Google Fiber’s impact on the market has been transformative all the same. Even with Google Fiber’s admittedly sparse footprint, the mere presence of the service results in ISPs dramatically dropping prices and boosting their own deployments of gigabit service. Google Fiber’s mere existence also created a necessary national dialogue on the sorry state of U.S. broadband competition.
Previous reports have suggested that executives at Google were split over Google Fiber, with some wanting the company to stay the path with fiber, and many others believing that wireless will be good enough. But the Bloomberg report is quick to highlight how many also worry this is just the latest example of Google’s inevitable shift from risk-taking disruptor, to a notably blander legacy-turf-protection machine:
“These changes have prompted many in Silicon Valley to accuse Page of bowing to investor pressure?in other words, of acting like a CEO of a normal, publicly traded company. ?It definitely looks like a more conventional company,? says Randy Komisar, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. ?It?s the classic GE conglomerate model,? he says, comparing Page to Jack Welch, famous for turning General Electric around by shedding research divisions and slashing costs.”
With the incoming Trump administration making it very clear the goal is to defang and defund the FCC, Google Fiber’s path could get even more complicated in the form of fewer regulatory allies in the fight against incumbents. While the Google Fiber shift to wireless could still pay notable competitive dividends, it’s still entirely within the realm of possibility that Page and friends get bored with Google Fiber entirely in a few years, leaving the effort as just another footnote in the never-ending quest to bring something vaguely resembling real price competition to bear on Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Charter.