Broadband services

Alphabet Is Serious About Google Fiber

From the moment Google first unveiled plans to deploy gigabit broadband service in 2010, industry watchers wondered if this was an experiment, a way to force other ISPs to invest further in their networks or a serious business venture. Since then, progress has been slow. Google Fiber has only rolled out gigabit Internet in Kansas City; Provo, Utah; and Austin, Texas, although it has plans for many more cities. The company's also said very little about the TV side of its business.

On the surface, it might appear that Google Fiber Inc. is still only dabbling in consumer telecom services. But ahead of today's Alphabet Inc. earnings call -- the first that will break out Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s traditional business lines from those under the new category of "Other Bets" -- there are several signs that Alphabet has big plans for Google Fiber.

First, there are further gigabit deployments in the works, including in Atlanta; Nashville; Salt Lake City; and Charlotte, NC, where workers recently broke ground to start laying fiber and begin constructing fiber huts. (See Gigabites: Google Fiber Forges On.)

Second, The Washington Post just broke the news that Google Fiber has been inviting customers to try out a new Google Fiber Phone service. The test offering includes several of the features already available through the over-the-top service Google Voice, including a cloud-based phone number that ties mobile and landline devices together, voicemail transcription and call screening options. If Google Fiber launches Google Voice broadly, that completes the triple-play bundle experience, and gives the company service parity with cable and telco providers.

Third, while Google Fiber has largely kept its video business under the radar, that doesn't mean it's leaving it to languish. It may only mean that the company has been biding its time.

For more on pay-TV trends, check out our dedicated video services content channel here on Light Reading.

As evidence, Google Fiber was one of the more vocal participants in the FCC advisory committee meetings last year that led to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on set-top competition currently being circulated. (See How the FCC's Set-Top Plan Could Work.)

And, since the FCC announced its NPRM, Google Fiber has already held at least one meeting for Congressional staffers to show off a "competitive video solution." The Future of TV Coalition is up in arms about this demonstration, suggesting that it means Google Fiber had the inside track on FCC plans. But realistically, the proposal that the FCC appears to have adopted is based on technical specifications made public last year. It's reasonable to assume that Google Fiber developed its demo around the same specifications.

Regardless of the political haranguing, the fact that parent company Alphabet is putting resources toward developing new video solutions and lobbying Congress so quickly and efficiently after the FCC's latest announcement leads to the conclusion that the company is very serious about pursuing video further, and about using Google Fiber service operations to do so.

Alphabet may still choose to limit the amount of data it reveals about Google Fiber in today's earnings call after the US markets close. But as one of the company's "other bets," Google Fiber appears to be getting a lot more attention internally than many people realize from the outside.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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inkstainedwretch 2/1/2016 | 8:07:13 PM
Serious / not serious Google Fiber is a serious endeavor inasmuch as it represents real competition in the places where Google deigns to roll it out. Google will use Google Fiber to do serious experimentation and valuable network and consumer research. 

It is NOT a serious endeavor inasmuch as Google can't be bothered to compete unless cities make concessions that often include doing basic network planning preparations for the company. I am speaking as a resident of a city that was considered for Google Fiber, but which so far has (wisely) declined to accede to Google's long list of ridiculous demands. If Google says it is working with any city, that should be treated strictly as a PR maneuver until that city announces it is knuckling under to Google's demands AND Google actually starts installing hardware. -- Brian Santo
rgrutza600 2/1/2016 | 6:45:00 PM
Re: can we just call it like it really is? You should check your facts before posting.  People will begin to disregard your commentary if you post misinformation consistenty.

danielcawrey 2/1/2016 | 5:00:42 PM
Re: Had doubts... Good article. I was beginning to wonder what the long term vision was for Fiber, and now I think we have it. 

Some have said that Google Fiber was an experiment. Well, I think we're seing that Alphabet is not going to shy away from this idea of being a telecom. If Fiber was availbale in my area, I would buy it. 
msilbey 2/1/2016 | 4:44:55 PM
Re: can we just call it like it really is? Good thought on checking in on the Google rejects.

My sense has been that many cities realized a few years ago they couldn't wait for Google to bail them out on broadband. However, as several others have pointed out, Google was a catalyzing force, and it changed the environment within which gigabit services are now deployed. The whole concept of getting communities to inventory assets, pool resources and attempt to reduce permitting barriers has been driven in no small part by Google Fiber. 

Again, financial success is an entirely different matter. And what I'm interested in is how strategic Alphabet sees Google Fiber for its future. Indications are that it believes Google Fiber is a critical asset. 
brooks7 2/1/2016 | 4:43:58 PM
Re: Had doubts... You don't upgrade from DSL to FTTH in Verizons network.

They had to do new fiber construction and use all new products (originally) including Harmonics video overlay components, AFCs OLTs and ONTs, Juniper E Series Routers and custom OSS work by Verizon's team in Tampa.

They completely overlaid themselves and so I think characterizing it as an upgrade is rather unfair.  

The advantages that they did have is all around the fact that they were already in the network construction and operating business.

Again, no matter what you do...there is no competition coming.  What we need to make Broadband a Universal Service and put price caps on it just like voice.  Then you won't worry about creating competition.


Steve Saunders 2/1/2016 | 4:29:55 PM
can we just call it like it really is? I guess i'd like to see an article which speaks to the massive disapointment that all of the communities that hoped to be part of Google's fiber revolution now feel about how things played out. 

6 years ago 1,100 communites (4 figures) applied to be on the Google Fiber program. how many of them have it today? Two.... less then three. So, 1,098 to go is it?  

Google's behavior is completely scandalous. If another service provider made claims for a new service like they have we would come down on them like a ton of shit from a great height but we don't because... well, Google. Sunshine! Flowers! 





mendyk 2/1/2016 | 3:39:34 PM
Re: Had doubts... It's not unfair or unreasonable to characterize the coverage and market perception of Amazon, Apple, and Google as glowingly positive. And there are plenty of reasons for that, starting with the fact that their shares have made people a lot of money. The Teflon is starting to wear off a bit, though.
cnwedit 2/1/2016 | 3:36:47 PM
Re: Had doubts... I agree the media has generally been Google Fiber cheerleaders, but not LR, at least not always. We've had our criticisms, and I've personally taken them to task for the slow pace at which they've deployed and for counting on lots of city freebies as part of their "business plan" for successful deployment. 

Google hasn't done anything of note on the technology side yet, and certainly did not have the dramatic impact on the cost-per-home passed of fiber that Verizon's FiOS did. 

But they did have a positive overall effect on the gigabit industry in the US by kickstarting a conversation at the national level, re-energizing AT&T on the fiber front and, to a less extent, CenturyLink, and also pushing for the kind of local, state and national regulatory and policy changes that would make local fiber deployment easier to do. They've done a lot to show municipalities where they are getting in the way of their own gigabit ambitions with outdated regulations and policies. 

So I'd say they've accomplished something, just not enough perhaps to justify the hype. 

msilbey 2/1/2016 | 3:27:21 PM
Re: Had doubts... There's nothing kind about it. Alphabet is pouring resources into Google Fiber. Whether it's successful from a revenue perspective is a whole different issue entirely. And I agree, we're unlikely to hear specific Google Fiber numbers on today's earnings call.
KBode 2/1/2016 | 3:05:46 PM
Re: Had doubts... "Google, Amazon, Apple -- they all pretty much have gotten kid-glove treatment"

Perhaps in contrast to say, cable companies whose customer service rankings are worse than any other industry or even government, but I think all three of these companies have seen a lot of criticism for a wide variety of dumb behavior. 

The hatred of Google from the telecom sector at large is pretty palpable. And I now see companies that spent decades lobbying themselves into a position of regulatory capture now whining about Google lobbying government. But most of the wounds in telecom are self inflicted, especially in the residential broadband space.
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