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Google Fiber Has a Shot as an Overbuilder

Alan Breznick

Will Google Fiber succeed where other cable overbuilders have failed? It's possible. Google could sign up broadband and video customers in greater numbers for its fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP)-based network than such traditional overbuilders as RCN Corp. and Knology Inc. could ever achieve, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Inc. analyst Carlos Kirjner wrote in a research note published Monday. That conclusion is based on a door-to-door survey of 204 of Google Fiber's Kansas City "fiberhoods." The Wall Street research firm found both "extremely high awareness" of Google Fiber and "high purchase intent" for its services. So, Time Warner Cable and AT&T, the incumbent broadband and video providers in the Kansas City region had better beware. So should the incumbent providers in Austin and Provo, Utah, where Google plans to strike next. (See Provo Next to Get Google's Gig.) "Survey results suggest that Google will likely reach mid-to-high-teens penetration of homes passed very fast and may reach much higher penetration over time," Kirjner writes. While Google Fiber's ultimate penetration rate "will depend on the effectiveness of the competitive response, how customers value Google's faster access speeds and how Google's pay-TV offer and consumer responses to such offer evolve," Kirjner notes, Google Fiber could achieve penetration rates of 40 percent to 50 percent, well above what even Verizon Communications has achieved with its FTTP-based FiOS service. Specifically, the Bernstein survey found that a whopping 98 percent of Kansas City residents in the fiberhoods were aware of Google Fiber. Slightly more than half of the respondents, or 52 percent, said they would "definitely or probably buy" the service, while another 25 percent said they might purchase it. Only 19 percent said they would definitely or probably not buy Google Fiber. Of the 160 consumers who are considering Google Fiber, slightly more than three-quarters, or 60 percent of the survey sample, said they were extremely or very likely to buy it. Although these figures are not necessarily "predictive of the ultimate penetration of Google Fiber," Kirjner writes, "these very high purchase intent numbers do not allow us to rule out the possibility that Google will indeed achieve very high penetration of homes passed, well in excess of the typical 20 percent to 30 percent that overbuilders have achieved historically in their most successful markets." While Google Fiber's 1 Gbit/s symmetrical speeds are its biggest, most promoted feature, most Kansas City residents expressed interest in the dual-play bundle of broadband and pay TV. Some 70 percent of the households considering Google's offer, or 55 percent of the total sample, said they are most interested in the bundle. Unlike Time Warner Cable, AT&T and other incumbent providers, Google Fiber is not offering a phone service or triple-play package. But Bernstein does not see this as a major problem because of the regulatory burden and operational complexity of a telephony service and the growing trend by consumers to junk their wireline service for wireless. Bernstein notes that incumbents, particularly MSOs, have sometimes used a "scorched earth approach" of price wars and other aggressive tactics to overwhelm overbuilders. But the firm warns that this approach will likely not work with Google Fiber because of the parent company's deep pockets and careful expansion strategy. — Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
5/7/2013 | 7:23:09 PM
re: Google Fiber Has a Shot as an Overbuilder
So far only a few hoods have been connected in KC, KS, which is one of the lowest income areas of KC metro. If they started in lower income E Austin, you may not get 50%. Also, KC has more ISP's than Austin. KC has TWC, ATT, Comcast, Charter, SureWest, CenturyLink and others. Not all in one hood but some hoods have up to 4 ISP options. Also, multiunit buildings need approval by apt owner or 70% of condo owners, which means some may not be able to get it (yet).

I imagine when this hits higher income/higher educated areas of KC metro, the uptake will be higher.
User Rank: Light Beer
5/7/2013 | 4:06:00 AM
re: Google Fiber Has a Shot as an Overbuilder
Local provider/Overbuilder Grande Communications in Austin/San Antonio, was picking up 30% penetration, within 6 months or so, in the neighborhoods they serviced before their PR began trending down and their growth plans stopped with a service that was perceived as comparable to their competitors. With a service like Google is providing, in a market like Austin, that reacts to shiny new things, I would expect closer to a 50% take rate. The perception of the product is of a higher quality product, at least initially. You have to ask yourself, why would this not happen, and what can ATT, and/or TWC really do about it? I don't see a way out. They can spend a large amount to upgrade their networks to compete, but, in reality, can't charge more for the service they just spent all that money for. Best case scenario, is they spend the money, and build out fiber to the home to retain customers and plug the losses and get used to a MUCH lower profit margin on internet access.

ATT is expecting the same cherry-picking allowances that Google is getting(and that Grande did not get), allowing ATT to simply spend only in the neighborhoods that Google goes to, or build an entire area out that Google chooses. I can imagine it will be a bit of a nightmare for the homeowners as the easement installation happens by at least two providers at the same time.
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