After launching its high-speed, affordable broadband network in Kansas City, KS, Austin, TX, and Provo, UT, Google announced that it is expanding Google Fiber into four new metro areas—Atlanta, GA, Charlotte, NC, Nashville, TN and Raleigh-Durham, NC—and is also considering expansion into five other cities. While Google is not the first entity to build a fiber optic infrastructure, it is one of the first private companies that was not already offering telecommunications services to invest billions of dollars nationwide to develop the infrastructure to support broadband Internet access service (“BIAS”) capabilities. In doing so, Google Fiber will provide a faster and cheaper alternative to consumers who were using a provider that previously had no local competition and therefore no incentive to lower prices or upgrade its slower, copper wire infrastructure.
When Google first introduced Gmail in 2004, people thought the company was joking. While the date of the announcment—April 1—may have warranted such skepticism, the company was in earnest about offering an easily searchable, free email service with 1GB of cloud storage. Gmail revolutionalized email, cloud storage, and web-based applications. Now, with the implentation of Google Fiber, a fiber-to-the-home internet service, Google again enters into a new market offering a service that seems incredible. Google is offering internet speeds of 1 gigabit per second (“Gbps” or “gigabit”), 100 times faster than the average, for $70 per month, and $120 per month if TV service is added—a faster and cheaper option than the plans offered by most competitors.
Additionally, the services that Google Fiber offers align with the Federal Communication Commission’s goals for expanding access to broadband. The National Broadband Plan, established by the FCC in 2010, advocates for robust competition in broadband markets and contains the explicit goal that “[e]very American community should have affordable access to at least 1 gigabit per second broadband service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals and government buildings.” Google Fiber enters into the market as a competitor to the exiting telecommunications companies and is offering 1 Gbps broadband service.
But Google’s entry into the BIAS provider market has not been seemless.
Liability concerns, blocked access to utility poles and existing infrastructure, and government regulation are just some of the issues Google is encountering in its effort to build a fiber-optic network directly to the homes of consumers, but these roadblocks have not stopped the company’s expansion of Google Fiber.
However, the probability of Google Fiber serving as a major competitor to the big telecomm companies in the near future is unlikely. Its impact on the speed and price of Internet services will likely be limited to the areas where the service is offered. However, Google Fiber is slowly expanding into different markets that vary in consumer base, regulatory schemes, and existing infrastructure and the model Google Fiber is using to selects areas for expansion and to construct its fiber optic network along with its experiences addressing the legal and regulatory issues facing broadband roll-out will likely shape the future of next-generation broadband development.
Access to existing infrastructure, especially utility poles, is at the forefront of the legal and regulatory hurdles facing Google Fiber’s expansion. Google’s actions addressing access to existing infrastructure coupled with an upcoming FCC vote that will impact BIAS providers’ access to utility poles will likely set the roadmap for how to effectively roll-out BIAS technology in what might prove to be a new era for privately built broadband. However, regardless off how the FCC classification decision pans out, most people believe Google Fiber is good for users and good for competition. As Paul Gallant, a research analyst at Guggenheim Partners, told the Washington Post, “Just by itself, Google’s fast, cheap broadband could be a game-changer. But throw in the potential for competitive responses…, and you can see why so many cities want to be next for Google Fiber.”