Gizmodo - February 16, 2017
What Happened to Google Fiber?
Written by Libby Watson
For a long time, Google Fiber was the most exciting broadband provider out there. Cities wanted it, tech people drooled over it; and on a loftier level, it even promised to help bridge the “digital divide” between rich and poor. But now, things are looking bleak: Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that Google Fiber is being scaled back dramatically (again) as it named Greg McCray its new CEO, with “several hundred” of its employees in that division being sent to other areas of the company.
What that means is, as Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Project at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance told Gizmodo, “the new guy gets screwed.” Google Fiber complained in a blog post last year that it had only been able to upgrade 33 telephone poles out of 88,000 in Nashville, thanks to these rules. Google has pushed hard to promote a different policy, known as “one touch make ready,” which would allow a single provider to make all those changes in one go.
But that hasn’t been plain sailing either, with incumbent providers like AT&T and Charter filing lawsuits left and right in cities that adopt the policy. AT&T’s complaints with the policy have ranged from Google providing inaccurate information on poles, to saying it could lead to service disruption if there are mistakes, to objecting that it would allow changes to poles they own “without AT&T’s consent and with little notice.”
It’s not that Google doesn’t have the money to fight these things, but it might not have been worth the resources to try and seriously compete with an incumbent provider on this issue—particularly when those providers are already so entrenched in the policy scene. In Tennessee, AT&T employed five times as many lobbyists as Google did last year—25 to Google’s five.
Another problem that’s faced Google Fiber: convincing people to sign up. According to Mitchell, while customers love the super fast speeds once they get them, it’s often hard to convince people to switch “even from a provider they hate,” because they don’t have time to wait at home for installation or spend time on the phone with their provider. Switching is a pain in the ass, basically. While adoption rates have been high in middle- and upper-class areas, low-income areas haven’t adopted Google Fiber as fast.