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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kq4ym 9/9/2016 | 11:25:31 AM
Re: Infrastructure ain't software Googe  did seem to get the ball rolling but how it will work out for the future is still a guess. "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," is an indication that not all works out so perfectly once the train moves on.
Duh! 8/29/2016 | 2:04:17 PM
Re: So.... Quote:
  • Fiber Zone A6, the northwest portion of West Roxbury, topped the voting and will serve as the starting point for the project with construction slated to begin in September. Fios service is expected to be available in parts of A6 beginning in late 2016, with further build out continuing in 2017.
  • The Dudley Square Innovation District, part of Fiber Zone A8 in Roxbury, will also be built and is expected to have Fios service available by year's end.
  • Construction in Fiber Zone A7 in Roslindale, Fiber Zone A1 in Dorchester, and Fiber Zone A5, the southeastern part of West Roxbury, will commence later this year with Fios services expected to be available in portions of these zones by the end of 2016 with expansion continuing in 2017.
  • New construction in remaining Fiber Zones A2, A3, A4 in Dorchester will start next year with Fios service expected to be available by the end of 2017. Further details of 2017 roll-out plans will be shared in the future.

Since most readers don't know Boston geography: West Roxbury is an inner suburb, mostly well-to-do, but not wealthy.  Dudley Square is a deeply troubled area, targeted by the city for economic re-development.  Roslindale and parts of Dorchester (Rozzie and Dottie) are mostly affordable (by Boston standards) working-class housing. Other parts of Dottie are public housing.

Not exactly the cherries you'd choose to pick, if you were picking solely on socio-economic status.  There are City priorities in play here, as well.
brooks7 8/29/2016 | 1:35:36 PM
Re: So.... Carol,

My comments were not met for you in particular but our community here in general.  Access is an odd duck business.  You have to deal with the lady that didn't like the ONT on the side of her house (didn't match the color she wanted).  So she took a sledgehammer to it.  Or the cabinet in Telus that had a truck slide into it each winter for 5 straight years.  

There aren't new business models here.  Haven't been in a long time.  We have tried all kinds of models (UNE-P, UNE-L, Project Pronto, Overbuilders, Muni Networks off the top of my head).  

I think we need to rethink this whole thing if we want a national broadband network.


KBode 8/29/2016 | 1:32:13 PM
Re: So.... I'd agree that there were multiple moving parts. One of said moving parts was the fact that Google Fiber has made cherry picking sexy again:




"The past administration here wanted the sort of buildout we have done in other areas where you build everywhere and you go in and get penetration," McAdam said. The new administration under Mayor Marty Walsh "were more willing to help us get rights of way, help us push fiber into the neighborhoods, and do more pre-subscription a la the Google model."


Now Verizon says it's talking with other cities where it will be perfectly ok to cherry pick (something we used to outlaw) because Google Fiber has painted a false veneer of democracy over the concept.
Duh! 8/29/2016 | 1:27:23 PM
Re: So.... That's a bit of an over-simplification, isn't it?

Based on what can be inferred from press accounts, public comments from management and regulatory filings, Verizon's decision to build out FiOS in Boston had a lot of moving parts.  Expedited permitting was one of many. If anything, the fact that they are a Title II Common Carrier (as they pointed out repeatedly in regulatory filings), with existing strand and duct, makes permitting much less onerous to them than it would be to a Google Fiber. I wasn't in the room, but strongly suspect that the extra rubber stampers in City Hall were a sweetener, not the key to the deal.
cnwedit 8/29/2016 | 12:09:29 PM
Re: So.... Seven,

The points you make are valid. I've never thought Verizon was lying about FiOS economics or why it refused to build in some areas. 

This is why I was skeptical about Google Fiber from the beginning. I was pretty sure they would run into the same issues that Verizon did and everyone else has ever since. I specifically remember someone from US West - I know it doesn't exist anymore - talking about having to factor in the cost of replanting its customers' rose bushes after an FTTH trial, which I think was in Omaha. 

My point here is that, without doing what it said it was going to do - innovate to make gigabit fiber networks more widespread - Google Fiber did accomplish a few things, so it isn't a failure. 

The fact that Google and AT&T reached a national agreement on pole attachments is another step forward...or would be, if it was working. Never mind. 
jbtombes 8/29/2016 | 11:44:06 AM
"I love fiber, but" Forgive me if you've heard this before. It's a quote from a European cable operator in a highly regulated country (I know, redundant that) speaking on a panel about DOCSIS 3.0 maybe ten years ago: "I love fiber, but I hate digging." The dilemma is real. Higher order-modulation over existing insfrastructure is one approach. Wireless is another it. 3.5GHz radios, anyone?
brooks7 8/29/2016 | 10:18:11 AM
Re: So.... Here is my point.

We have 1 - count it 1 - large scale FTTH buildout in the US.  We want this build out to continue and the company that did this buildout told us from the beginning that it would not cover their entire network.

I can not count the number of articles here since then that have touted the next big buildout in Europe and the chances for one in the US.  And very little happnened.  Google could afford to do a nationwide FTTH buildout if it chose.  Is it a great investment of Google Shareholder money?  Apparently not, because it hasn't happened.

We refuse to learn from all of this.  If we want a different result, we need to do something different.  We have had 1 - again exactly 1 - universal buildout.  That was POTS.  The universal POTS network was regulated into existence.  If we want a universal high speed (and that has to be determined and enforced) broadband network, then we will need to regulate it into existence.

The reason I constantly bring up the FiOS buildout is that it has all the economics both positive and negative that everyone faces.  Verizon told us about them through their actions and we have acted like they are lying to us.  All the other carriers and Google act that way and we refuse to process.

And now we note that the whole OSP building and right of way thing creates a lot (one for every municipality) of problems.  MSOs and Telcos know all about this as do the access companies.  Cabinet designs have to meet municipal requirements for intrusiveness.  All of this information is available.

The problem is that most of the industry sits inside and behind the Central Office.  That is a much prettier place to work than the part where you have to shoot your cabinets with shotguns.  There are reasons that things are the way they are.  Why not ask the folks who have been doing this for a long time?


KBode 8/29/2016 | 8:20:48 AM
Re: So.... "I assume you are referring to Verizon's complaints about municipal processes and permiting bureaucracy?

Seven, I'm sure they did complain to the regulators. And people like me could have chosen to pay more attention to those complaints and didn't."


Boston's getting FiOS because Verizon complained, after Google Fiber opened the door to making cherry picking fashionable. 
KBode 8/29/2016 | 8:20:00 AM
Re: Rules and regs "Furthermore, Google put a twist on VZ's and AT&T's redlining by going direct to consumers and forcing them to organize into Google Neighborhoods before Google would even commit to a build. "


And then AT&T and Verizon turned around and took advantage of this new acceptance over red lining to further do the same things myself. Which, unfortunately lead to a lot of "fiber to the press release" where a gigabit market is "launched" just because it has a development on a hill that can get next-gen speeds.
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