Return to Google Land? Public Demands Broadband Alternatives

Remember back in 2010 when Google announced its entry into the broadband network market? To much fanfare, Google Fiber was born with Kansas City serving as its first major construction project. Google’s promise to deliver true high-speed internet services (as much as a gigabyte) captured the interest of cities across the nation. And these days, having gigabyte broadband available to both homes and businesses is the definition of a modern American city with high economic capabilities and possibilities.

Right off the bat, favorable attention rained down upon the mega-company. Google Fiber was widely praised by consumers and businesses desperate for dramatic enhancements to their broadband needs. Google Fiber was also widely panned by competitors for its methods and ability to coerce amazing concessions and assistance from cities hoping to land a Google Fiber network.

The entry of Google Fiber as an economically priced, broadband provider became an immediate disruptive force across the country – especially when it was delivering speeds up to 150 times faster than existing systems.

Google had money to invest, was a recognized technology leader, and created its own rules. The company could afford to be strategic regarding where it installed its fiber optic systems. Smaller cities need not apply. At one point, it announced 34 cities where it might build next, and the mystique and hysteria of Google Fiber reached new heights.

For a while, things were moving at a fast pace. Suddenly, in 2016, new Google Fiber buildouts were gone. The company announced that its then-CEO Craig Barratt was stepping down and plans for new Fiber cities would be put on-hold. Many industry experts chalked up the Google fade to the mere fact that the company had done what it intended. The market had been motivated and stimulated by the competition and another wave of broadband build-outs were hitting the markets, which is what Google needed for its high-tech products. Apparently, Google Fiber was not finished with its construction. In 2017, Google Fiber came back to life in Louisville, Ky. This time, a competitor, AT&T, quickly escalated its work in Louisville to reach the market first. Google’s construction in Louisville also was substantially underground, making deployments using a technique called shallow trenching – better known to telecom construction markets as micro trenching.

Regardless of what the technique is called, it allows fiber to be laid quickly and expeditiously in an extremely narrow trench, just wide and deep enough to deploy fiber along the side of a street. It is sealed with a specialty grout and the road is immediately restored to full operation. Google Fiber, if it continues to initiate build-outs, can bring its broadband services to other cities at a much faster pace.

Another possible key to Google Fiber’s continued strategy was the acquisition of a company called Webpass in October 2016. It primarily provides gigabit speeds wirelessly to multi-tenant buildings. Webpass has already been deployed in eight cities, with others pending.

A wrinkle in the rush to obtain true high-speed internet is that rural and under-served regions are tired of watching the future pass them by. As such, almost 500 cities have built their own high-speed networks to date. Those cities are not content to let majors such as Google, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, etc. decide when they reach market viability – that may not ever happen without a federal push or incentive program.

Cities of small to moderate size want to become relevant to modern business opportunities now, not later. They want the convenience and benefits for their residents that come with high-speed internet immediately. Sometimes, the only way to make that happen is to take things into their own hands. For some cities, that has worked flawlessly, while other cities have struggled to maintain such a system. But the left-behind cities will keep trying.

Even contractors are re-engaging, as marked by Quanta’s return to the telecom construction market. After selling its telecom assets to Dycom a few years ago and seemingly abandoning that market to concentrate on more potentially lucrative endeavors, Quanta has now built up an impressive telecom operation of more than 450 people and is still growing.

Will Google Fiber begin to fuel another building wave to the already strong fiber broadband construction market? It’s beginning to look that way. But whether broadband solutions come from a Google Fiber product or renewed vigor from AT&T, Verizon, Comcast or scores of other providers, the public is demanding alternatives to the traditional, limited broadband offerings.

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