Google Fiber Can't Be Called a Failure

Internet giant's initiative rewrote the local broadband story for many cities in the US.

August 26, 2016

3 Min Read
Google Fiber Can't Be Called a Failure

When Google first announced ambitious plans to build its own gigabit fiber access networks, I was among the many skeptics. The search giant's announced goal was to bring the same economies of scale and innovation to the Internet access business that it had been able to deliver in compute storage realm. In the process, Google wanted to speed up the pace at which gigabit networks were being built in the US, to get faster Internet access to more people.

On one of those two goals, it has definitely succeeded. On the other -- well, there's no other way to say this Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), but I told you so. (See Google Stumbling on Fiber Innovation?)

Google Fiber Inc. has definitely succeeded in changing the conversation when it comes to gigabit services in the US. You can argue that market was ripe for moving forward, but there is little doubt the fear of what Google could do set a lot of wheels in motion at a must faster pace at AT&T, in particular, but also within the cable industry.

Some of the cities who first competed for Google's attention put their preliminary work to good use in developing other gigabit plans.

Google Fiber also succeeded in changing the dialogue on another key front: The company has shone a bright light on major impediments to fiber-to-the-home deployments that had largely gone unnoticed, namely the permitting and procedures processes at the local and state level. Even as towns and cities were decrying the lack of high-speed access, their complex rules and burdensome bureaucratic processes were making some deployments much harder. (See Google's Medin Urges Competition-Friendly Net Policies.)

These issues haven't been resolved, by any means, but Google deserves credit for at least kicking that ball onto the playing field, so to speak. And there is progress being made in some areas at both the state and local level.

Want to know more about gigabit strategies? Check out our dedicated gigabit content channel here on Light Reading.

When it comes to innovation and cost curve changes, however, it's a different matter. Google's approach to its buildout -- creating fiberhoods that identify interest up front and tie deployment schedules to that interest -- is something others are adopting.

But if the company has been able to truly innovate in how FTTH is done, I haven't heard about it. Instead, it looks like Google has discovered what many of us thought they would, which is that building local loop fiber can be a difficult and painstaking process, fraught with unexpected challenges on multiple fronts.

The Internet giant also learned a lesson that the tiniest telco could have taught them up front: Content ain't cheap, and if you are counting on a pay-TV service to help you pay the broadband bills, good luck with that. At best, video is a loss leader for broadband and at worst -- given cord-cutting -- the cost and complexity of acquiring content makes it a massive pain in the patootie.

As I've noted, I was a Google Fiber skeptic at the outset. And if the current speculation is correct and the company is cutting back in anticipation of using broadband wireless as its primary means of connection, I won't be surprised. But I think Google has to get credit for what it has done. There are many people -- myself included -- that have gigabit service today, very possibly because of what Google started in 2012.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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