Google Fiber exploded on the scene in 2011. The giant was going to push the existing cable/telco duopoly to more aggressively upgrade their infrastructures. Google was not acting as a catalyst out of a sense of altruism. It stood to gain: The faster and more robust networks are, the more effectively Google can hawk its products and services.
At first, the question was whether Google was serious about being a telecommunications infrastructure company. It turned out that it was. It announced a series of agreements and began building and offering services. Last year, however, the provider slowed down. A combination of the explosion of wireless capabilities and the difficulties of gaining approvals for pole attachments led Google Fiber to reconsider its approach.
The transition from broadband savior to a company uncertain of how it will proceed is not being kind to Google Fiber. Or, more precisely, it is not being kind to those living in Atlanta and Kansas City, the first and highest profile of its projects.
Motherboard last week reported that many people in Kansas City who signed up for Google Fiber got their money back and won’t be hooked up. While there are positives -- infrastructure upgrades are substantial and will outlive Google’s involvement even if the company closes down the network – the sense is that the project is falling way short of expectations.
There is a bit of confusion about precisely what is going on in Kansas City and the surrounding area. KansasCity.com reported that Google had missed its obligation of fully serving Kansas City and the nearby cities of Mission Hills, Westwood and Westwood Hills within five years of being awarded permission to build.
In August, Google asked for and received an extension. However, people received the refunds that are also described in the Motherboard story. It is unclear if the subscribers who got the refunds are those covered by the extension (and thus may get service after all) or whether the refunds are permanent.
Reporter Newspapers last month reported on slowdowns in the Atlanta Google Fiber buildouts. The report focused on the communities of Brookhaven and Sandy Springs. DSL Reports noted that Google Fiber hasn’t addressed issues about its intention:
The report is clear to note that Google Fiber has had a scattered, positive impact on many communities, but locals are pretty clearly growing agitated by the company's refusal to seriously address the company's obvious wavering enthusiasm. Similar questions have started bubbling up in Google Fiber markets like Atlanta, where locals also say the company's deployment cadence has notably slowed.
Google Fiber still makes announcements; it said last week that it is servicing more than 3,000 apartment and condominiums and that it has 300 members in its Community Connections program, which focuses on partnership with nonprofits. The announcement seems, however, more like a function of a PR department trying to make it appear that progress is being made than a new achievement.
On one hand, Google Fiber’s mission of bringing high-speed connectivity to communities across the country may be intact. In this interpretation, the reasons for the delays are difficult local officials and, to an even greater extent, the desire to wait until faster wireless technology is completely ready. The other possibility is that Google Fiber no longer wants to be a major broadband infrastructure provider. Perhaps the business is harder than anticipated or, simply, that competition has increased and Google Fiber no longer is needed.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.