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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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KBode 8/29/2016 | 8:18:00 AM
Re: So.... "We have written all this about Google Fiber and yet when Verizon complains about the same things they are written off?"

 

Who wrote them off? Boston struck a special deal with them after they complained like Google Fiber. These ISPs just didn't bother complaining because they liked the status quo as it was and had no need to push back against what's effectively regulatory capture in many markets custom designed to protect THEM from competition.
R Clark 8/29/2016 | 7:15:07 AM
Good for telecom The other way to frame this is that there's barely a part of telecom that Google isn't already in. It's in international subsea cable, it's in MVNO wireless, it's obviously in handsets and mobile content and it's in remote telecom access.  Its DIY culture drove it into longhaul telecom but I suspect they entered fibre access more as an experiment.

It's good for telecom to have Google lobbyists agitating for simpler regulations, but it's also good to have Google dial back on its plans and let everyone understand there's no shortcut to building and oeprating wireline access.
brooks7 8/26/2016 | 8:37:29 PM
Re: Infrastructure ain't software Duh!,

They are trying to compete in the NFL by playing Little League Baseball.  Both are fine, but you can't do one in the other.  You can not succeed in applications by being a telco.

seven

 
Duh! 8/26/2016 | 3:26:38 PM
Re: Infrastructure ain't software I wasn't questioning the Telcos' efforts to get data center economies into COs. It's the repeated attempts to get into pure information services that reminds me of Wile E. Coyote.
inkstainedwretch 8/26/2016 | 3:08:23 PM
Rules and regs The rules and regs have been there for years and are well known. Cable ops had to conform, and were justly angry when states waived a lot of those rules and regs for AT&T and Verizon so those two could build AND the states didn't immediately waive those same rules-and-regs for the cable ops. Verizon and AT&T got special treatment and still whined about it. Furthermore, they got away with redlining

Then Google comes in with Google Fiber. I agree with everything Carol wrote, but I'd add a bit. Google's whole approach to Google Fiber was to do it on the cheap -- in a couple of the first Google Fiber cities, they bought existing dark infrastructure for pennies on the dollar. With subsequent cities, they pushed the burden (that is to say, the costs) of planning onto the cities themselves. All the while, they insisted on being free of the same rules and regs that VZ and AT&T were absolved of -- and which the cable operators managed to conform to. Some cities (e.g., Portland OR) ultimately lost interest in jumping through Google's hoops.

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.

-- Brian Santo
cnwedit 8/26/2016 | 2:42:45 PM
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. 

What Google did was mount a major campaign that was much more public, and because they were already talking to cities who were chomping at the bit to get Google Fiber to their town, that might have given them a bigger platform. 
cnwedit 8/26/2016 | 2:39:58 PM
Re: Infrastructure ain't software Basically I agree with your comments on hubris, at least where Google is concerned.

The one distinction I'd make between what Google did with Google Fiber and what telecom operators are trying to do now is that Google didn't need to get into the FTTH business - whether or not Google Fiber succeeded or failed, the bigger and much more profitable business continued. They just thought they could show big telecom a thing or do, and it turned out to be harder than they expected. 

Telecom operators, on the other hand, aren't trying to compete with Google so much as emulate what Google has done in SDN and data centers as part of an effort to survive. Some of them, to be sure, also want to be content players, just as, back in the pre-Internet days, they flirted with setting up their own content companies, working with the big studios. 

But most of what I see in telecom is determination to find a way to add value to their broadband pipes in a way that ensures their future as something more than commodity. 
brooks7 8/26/2016 | 2:33:44 PM
So....  

We have written all this about Google Fiber and yet when Verizon complains about the same things they are written off?

Look, do I want higher end services to show up..yes.  But we spend so much time hoping that FTTH will happen, that we miss:

- When it has happened

- A plan to make it happen

seven

 
Jill Again 8/26/2016 | 2:17:34 PM
Google Fiber The Federal officer in the movie National Treasure needed to have someone to pin for the crime committed, no matter how noble the cause. As he said, "Someone's got to go to prison Ben", the sentiment occurs to me that "someone's got to pay the bill". Everyone in this game wants to use other people's money. We just can't all agree on who that might be, other than we are pretty sure it isn't us. 

The reality is the demand is seemingly unlimited when the cost is near zero. Welcome to the real world. How many CLECs went bankrupt chasing the same dream?
Duh! 8/26/2016 | 1:59:58 PM
Infrastructure ain't software The word you're looking for is "hubris".  The belief that being successful in innovating big data centers somehow translates into having the know-how to build outside plant. 

Hubris runs both ways in our industry. The idea that a Telco can somehow compete with Google in their space is about as dubious as the idea that Google can compete with Telcos in theirs.

The late, great Ken Olsen always used to say "Stick to your knitting". 

 
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