Google Fiber Goes Wireless–Where Does That Leave Nashville?

There is no motion, because that which is moved must arrive at the middle before it arrives at the end, and so on ad infinitum.

Zeno’s Paradox of Motion

Nashville is one of the cities who was in early on Google Fiber–Google’s much vaunted gigabit fiber to the premises Internet service.  (Fiber is now reportedly called “Access” and is being downsized after Google’s reorganization under the “Alphabet” company name.)

The Nashville page for Google Fiber describes it as “Fiber is coming”.  Which must mean Fiber is not there yet.

According to recent reporting in Watchdog.org:

The Nashville Metro Council is considering a new ordinance to allow Google to quickly access utility poles and move existing equipment largely owned by rivals Comcast and AT&T. The measure will likely be voted on Sept. 6….Representatives from AT&T, Comcast and Google Fiber met with Nashville City Council members earlier this month to hash out the issue.Google Fiber claimed it might bypass the city if the ordinance isn’t passed.

That’s an interesting threat given other recent news regarding Fiber from The Wall Street Journal:

Google parent Alphabet Inc. is rethinking its high-speed internet business after initial rollouts proved more expensive and time consuming than anticipated, a stark contrast to the fanfare that greeted its launch six years ago.

Alphabet’s internet provider, Google Fiber, has spent hundreds of millions dollars digging up streets and laying fiber-optic cables in a handful of cities to offer web connections roughly 30 times faster than the U.S. average.

Now the company is hoping to use wireless technology to connect homes, rather than cables, in about a dozen new metro areas, including Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas, according to people familiar with the company’s plans. As a result Alphabet has suspended projects in San Jose, Calif., and Portland, Ore.

Meanwhile, the company is trying to cut costs and accelerate its expansion elsewhere by leasing existing fiber or asking cities or power companies to build the networks instead of building its own.

It is well to remember that when Google nixed the Google Glass project, the decision came out of the blue when it encountered a consumer reaction ranging from yawn to outright hostility.  Also, Recode is reporting that “Google’s moonshot factory is having trouble getting products out the door.”

The Information reports that Fiber/Access is also struggling:

When Google was planning to launch its Fiber broadband and TV service, Fiber executives had ambitious hopes of signing up around 5 million subscribers in five years, said a person close to Google’s parent, Alphabet. But by the end of 2014, more than two years after service began, Google had only signed up around 200,000 broadband subscribers, said a former employee. The current number isn’t known, but it’s still well short of initial expectations, said another person close to Alphabet….But that’s only part of the story. Last month, Alphabet CEO Larry Page ordered Google Fiber’s chief, Craig Barratt, to halve the size of the Google Fiber team to 500 people, said the second person close to Alphabet.

The Watchdog.org report also discusses a recent poll about Fiber taken in Nashville

As Nashville and internet providers debate pole attachment rules, a recent poll shows most residents of the Music City think rules should be relaxed to expedite Google Fiber’s network growth there.

Local polling company icitizen found that 94 percent of Nashville residents favor “one-touch, make-ready” legislation that would allow a single utility crew to rewire poles for all providers to accommodate a new company. Eighty-five percent of respondents strongly favored the idea, while only 4 percent were opposed to such legislation. Icitizen polled more than 550 Nashville residents Aug. 18-24 for its survey….Watchdog asked [an citizen representative] if she was concerned about possible bias in the poll, given that the question about the legislation notes the current law is leading to a delay in Google Fiber rollout but doesn’t emphasize the argument of rival telecom providers that one-touch, make-ready impedes on their property rights and doesn’t offer sufficient relief or notification in case their equipment is damaged. The question does note the concerns over possible disruption of infrastructure and giving a shortcut to Google.

The poll also omitted the fact that Fiber/Access is downsizing by 50% and is planning on shifting to wireless anyway.  So why should Nashvillians go through the headache of “one-touch make-ready” in the first place?  Google’s championing of the issue almost looks calculated to create a negative public perception of Google’s competitors in the Nashville market.

Austin has recently suffered through the Silicon Valley-style “take my ball and go home” tactics with Google Ventures portfolio company Uber.  (Uber’s ballot proposition was defeated by a 56% majority after Uber and Lyft’s $10 million campaign trying to get Austin to yes backfired.)  While some were aware that Uber is planning on replacing its independent contractor drivers with driver-less cars, most voters in the substantial majority of the Austin community rejected Uber’s threats anyway.

I’m not saying the two are synonymous, but it’s a lot easier for Google to leave Nashville before it installs cables on poles or wireless infrastructure.  It’s hard to believe that a 50% cut in the Fiber workforce will result in anything like the bubbly version of the future of Fiber in Nashville that Nashvillians were thinking of when they took that poll.

If Nashville residents were told that they were going to get half the customer support and none of the pole problems, there’s no telling how that poll would have turned out.

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