The Google Fiber Threat

6:05 PM -- Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) outlined the services it's tying to its big fiber "experiment" in the Kansas Cities Thursday, including a very speedy broadband service that can be paired with a relatively cheap subscription TV service (minus ESPN). The "free" 5Mbit/s service (customers will still have to spring for the $300 installation fee) was a surprising touch. (See Google Fiber Bundles TV, Shuns Data Caps.)

So, should the area's incumbents -- Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and SureWest Communications (Nasdaq: SURW) -- be scared out of their wits about what Google has in store for them? Not really, or at least not yet. But it has to have their attention.

Early on, Google Fiber's damage on the market will be somewhat contained. In a clever twist designed to spark Google Fiber-mania, Google's pretty much asking people in Kansas City, Kan.; and central Kansas City, Mo., to beg for these services, urging them to "pre-register," an act that will cost $10.

If enough neighbors in a given "Fiberhood" jump in, then they might get at or near the front of the line. If a Fiberhood doesn't meet its goal by Sept. 9, then too bad. No Google Fiber for you or your local schools and libraries, maybe for quite a while. Google hasn't outlined any specific customer commitments, but here's a video explaining how the initial selection process will work:

While this means incumbents won't have to worry about Google Fiber steamrolling the market right away, the pricing on these services could apply some pressure on everyone. If Google Fiber can charge $70 per month for a symmetrical 1Gbit/s service, why are ISPs like Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) getting away with charging a lot more for a lot less speed? Why can't you be like Google Fiber? Expect that question to come up a lot now. (See Comcast Revs Up Pricey 305-Meg Tier and FiOS Speeds & Prices Take a Quantum Leap .)

We don't yet know everything about Google's business model, like how much it really stands to make or lose on each customer who signs up. But Google's managed to raise the bar on speed while lowering the bar on price -- something that's probably causing some teeth-gnashing among telcos and cable operators that have fallen in love with their huge broadband margins but have seen their video margins shrivel up as programming costs go sky high.

Besides, Google's experiment is highly political, and it's already scoring points there, with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issuing a statement today about how "moving from megabits to gigabits will unleash breakthrough innovations in healthcare, education, business services and more."

And if I'm a cable access network or cable modem vendor, or a chipmaker like Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Google's announcement today would give me cause to crack the bubbly.

Intel, for example, introduced a Docsis 3.0 modem chipset this year that can get U.S. cable within shouting distance of a 1Gbit/s downstream and a 320Mbit/s upstream. Despite Google's isolated 1Gig jig in the Kansas Cities, it might just jab cable deep enough to accelerate the introduction of that product. (See Google's Pointy Stick and Intel's New Docsis 3.0 Chip Guns for 1-Gig .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:26:04 PM
re: The Google Fiber Threat

Milo Medin added some insight into the economics to GigaOm, outlining some of the various ways Google's going to be able to turn 1-gig into a profitible business. JB


Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:26:04 PM
re: The Google Fiber Threat

So, is there any doubt now that Google's going to try to sell off the cable  modem assets posthaste? Hard to imagine that the cable guys would buy alot of new stuff from Moto now that GOOG's shown its fiber cards. Although there's no indication that Google plans to emulate this in other markets, there's now at least a threat that it could if it can establish a biz model that works. JB  

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:26:03 PM
re: The Google Fiber Threat

I think we can't discount the fact that Google will never be expected to scale the service. That's a huge step towards profitability. They go where they can make money, and there's no guarantee they'll ever go to another city... and nobody has any right to complain about any of that. 

If Verizon or AT&T had picked one city and said FiOS/Uverse wouldn't be anywhere else, there'd have been hell to pay.  Google will face no repercussions.

Not that we should feel sorry for the telcos for not building better fiber faster. I just think there's a little too much fawning over Google and its cherry-picked scenario. Let them expand Google Fiber to, say, the entire state of Missouri -- *then* the incumbents will have something to worry about.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:25:58 PM
re: The Google Fiber Threat

True, there are lots of tiers that cost a much less in the market, and your analysis of the pricing does speak to the level of competition in the market that already exists and TW Cable alluded to in its comments about Google Fiber.

I was thinking about this on how the premium tiers of the incumbents and Google Fiber's 1-Gig offer match up on speed and price.  Of course "free" isn't bad either, if you can live on 5Mbit/s by 1Mbit/s and can spring for the construction fee options.

Even though Comcast and VZ won't lock horns with Google Fiber in the Kansas Cities, i still wonder what kind of pricing pressure they'll face with their newest 305Mbit/s and 300Mbit/s tiers now that the world knows what Google's going to do. JB


Flook 12/5/2012 | 5:25:55 PM
re: The Google Fiber Threat


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