Google FTTH: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back ?

Us_dp After long months of silence, Google made three announcements this week related to their FTTH project. Well, actually they made two but there's a third less overt one that was discreetly tagged along with the second.

The first announcement came early in the week as Google announced that it would sub-contract the operations and support of their Stanford Beta to sonic.net. If you remember, the Stanford Beta is a testbed for the whole project (which is itself a testbed, but that's another story) with a deployment to roughly 850 homes in the Stanford University Campus. Unlike what some have reported, sonic.net will not be building the network (despite the fact that they themselves have started building a small pilot project in Sebastopol, CA) but they will be operating and supporting it. This is a smart move on Google's part for two essential reasons: First it shows that they have learned the nexus lesson, ie. that when you offer services in the physical world, you need customer support. Second, it's a smart choice because sonic.net is a company that is intensely customer focused and widely considered to be one of the ISPs with the best ever customer service in North America. What is unclear at this stage is whether sonic.net will also provide internet access services (remember, this is supposed to be an open-access network). All we know is in the press release: "Sonic.net will manage operation of the network, provide customer service and support and perform on-site installation and repair."

Yesterday, Google made a second announcement on its Google FTTH project in the form of a short blog posting on their official public policy blog. The posting, entitled An Update on Google Fiber basically explains that despite earlier promises, Google will not pick the community or communities where their full-fledged deployment will occur before the end of this year. Google says that they were overwhelmed by the number of applicants and haven't been able, in the 9 months since applications closed, to determine where they should deploy. This is a cause for concern, not only for the communities that applied, but for the credibility of Google's project as a whole and, by extension, of municipal FTTH initiatives. In a way not much different from the 2008 stimulus grants, Google's announcement has effectively frozen investment in many communities that are hoping to either be picked by Google or, failing that, to learn from Google's approach. The longer Google takes, the more it freezes the market, and the less their wider goal of kick-starting FTTP deployment and adoption is served…

The slightly less visible announcement is also cause for concern, at least according to Giga Om's Stacey Higginbotham. The blog posting mentioned above was written by the newly recruited Vice President of Access Services, Milo Medin. I'm not one to judge people I've never met and so I don't know if this really is good or bad news, but on the basis of what I hear, the things that strike me is that the guy has no experience in deploying fiber to the home, a less than pristine track record in network deployment and is from the silicon valley cultural mold. My concern with this project has always been that it was so far out of their comfort zone that they needed to be challenged in their thinking to pull it off. Let's hope Milo is the right guy to do that…