Is Google Fiber (Finally) Changing the Broadband Game ?

Past my initial enthusiasm all these years ago, I’ve always been a bit of a Google Fiber skeptic. The long-term impact of Google Fiber on the US Broadband market is often (in my opinion) over-rated, as AT&T’s flat CAPEX lines demonstrate only too well (despite the company being vocal about investing in Fiber). Google’s own capacity (or willingness) to invest in infrastructure is limited, and the fact that no numbers have ever been released either in coverage or take-up suggests that perhaps it’s not quite as fantastic a story as the media often makes it.

Ultimately – unless Google has a secret plan to fiber up half of America – this was always about spurring the market onwards towards fiber. And if the private market won’t play, then the only vector is municipal utilities. If there’s one area in which Google did have an impact (as did the success of Chattanooga and similar projects), it’s in the realization by cities that gigabit is not science fiction, and that it can be done. But that was always a slow process.

The announcement by the city of Huntsville, Alabama last week that it would build an open dark fiber network and that Google was going to operate and sell services on top of that network could be the accelerator the market desperately needs. The idea isn’t new, it’s in fact exactly what Stockholm has been doing these last 21 years as we show in our white paper Stokab Helps Build a Smarter Stockholm.

At the end of the day, as always, it’s about scale. If Huntsville is the first of many, then things will probably get moving, finally. It will also demonstrate the viability of open access to US policy makers that have been largely skeptical. With the Google brand involved, I have no doubt it will work. But Google needs to step things up fast if that’s the desired outcome.

I’m a little more cautious than Susan Crawford about this because I’ve been disappointed by Google Fiber in the past. No doubt this could change the game; only when the commitment is readily apparent will we know it has.

In the meantime though, this is absolutely worth looking into closely. A good place to start is the Community Broadband Bits Podcast #191 entitled Exploring the Huntsville Fiber Model.