Google Fiber: Doomed from the start

“In February 2010… I cheered. Google had announced its fiber experiment, a plan to wire at least 50,000 homes with fast, bountiful connections,” Susan Crawford writes for Backchannel. “Finally, someone was going to try to unstick the monopolistic, stagnant, second-rate market for high-capacity internet access in the US.”

Now, “news reports all seem to signal that Google is dumping the idea of fiber and moving decisively into wireless access solutions,” Crawford writes. “The bumpersticker from defenders of the status quo is that this means the Google Fiber experiment was a disaster. That’s simply not the case.”

“We do need fiber, everywhere. But we’re talking about basic infrastructure when we talk about fiber. And it is not in any private company’s short-term interest to make that basic fiber infrastructure,” Crawford writes. “Google’s retreat is all about the bottom line… The only business model for fiber that will work to produce the competition, low prices, and world-class data transport we need — certainly in urban areas — is to get local governments involved in overseeing basic, street grid-like ‘dark’ (passive, unlit with electronics) fiber available at a set, wholesale price to a zillion retail providers of access and services. There’s plenty of patient capital sloshing around the US that would be attracted to the steady, reliable returns this kind of investment will return. That investment could be made in the form of private lending or government bonds; the important element is that the resulting basic network be a wholesale facility that any retail actor can use at a reasonable, fair cost.”

“Eventually, after communities have shown the way, the federal government will wise up and ensure any remaining stragglers have great, inexpensive access too,” Crawford writes. “We’ve been through this story before: It’s a recap of what the country did in the early years of electrification.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: That last mile is by far the longest.


    1. No, it really won’t. The demand for bandwidth will keep going up, and – no matter how fancy they get with efficient usage of spectrum – radio has only one, finite, spectrum to work with.

      When you’re using fiber, EACH FIBER has an entire spectrum to itself. And running a bundle of, say, 100 dark fibers, is about as cheap as running a single CAT-6 cable.

      Not that I’m saying we don’t need 5G, or that it won’t help – but there’s absolutely no reason that fixed points that need their own data channel should do it via RF when fiber is so inexpensive to install.

      1. Point well taken. But I’m thinking about infrastructure. Digging all those holes to lay all that wire… all the relays, etc. Seems like it makes more financial sense to go wireless.

  1. I called this in 2010. There is a reason the Verizons of this world are dumping their support for fiber and copper to the home. It is too expensive to operate. It is also very difficult/expensive to retrofit existing infrastructure. There is a reason Telco’s want the governments help to subsidize this. I think the increase in wireless speeds will make this a moot point too. 5G is much quicker and easier to deploy.

    1. Wireless is much quicker and easier to deploy, but as emmayche points out above, there is no possible way that the radio spectrum can handle a city full of households with several super-high definition televisions and computers each. Copper can’t handle that either.

      One factor nobody has mentioned yet is that the incumbent ISPs (telcos and cable TV companies) have induced many state legislatures to ban municipal investments in data infrastructure. It is as if ConEd had managed to convince Congress in 1932 to kill the federal rural electrification program. Without it, there would still be Americans sitting in the dark. Without government involvement, fiber will never be available far beyond where it is now.

    2. The government DID essentially subsidize fiber: the telcos got all kinds of tax breaks in exchange for a promise to roll out high-speed Internet access (usually fiber) across the country. Then the telcos decided they’d rather not do that, after having already used the tax breaks, and asked their lobbyists to get the government to let them extend or cancel the deadlines, and the government generally did.

  2. Government will either screw it up or make it cost 2x or more what a reasonable price should be. My (Progressive) City tried this already with a Government owned CableTV/Telephone backbone infrastructure in the early 2000’s. True to form, it all went down in a fireball within 4 years. An independent Auditor discovered that a short term (clandestine) financing deal was made to purchase the infrastructure equipment. When that note became due, the City was unable to secure long term financing. Months after expiration of this note, the City was forced to take a high rate debt package as a result of a infighting and a lowered credit rating. when all was said & done, costs for services more than doubled for city residents… and no other cable/phone competition was allowed in the city as they were locked out of the market by city regulations. People flocked to cell phones and DirecTv – which caused further price hikes to the City’s offerings. Now the only cost effective internet access is via cell phone tethering, unless you are a business and require T1 or higher and can afford the price. What a Fuster-Cluck. Viva la Socialism!

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