• What's Google Really Up To With Its Fiber-to-the-Home Project?

    I continue to be intrigued about what Google is up to with its 1 gigabit/second fiber-to-the-home project that it announced back in February. The latest (non) update is that yesterday the company unveiled a new resource web site for the project, dubbed "Google Fiber for Communities."

    While there's an FAQ link for the project, there really isn't much new information provided about the project itself.  Instead, the most prominent button on the new site says "Take Action Now" (Improve Broadband in Your Community). Clicking it takes you to a site that discusses the cost of laying fiber conduit and gets into the minutiae of digging up streets. There's a button to email your representative to express support for pending federal legislation requiring installation of conduit in federally-funded transportation projects. There's also a lengthy set of recommendations that city-sponsored road projects also include conduit.

    What's going on here? Why is Google, which derives the vast majority of its revenues from search advertising, dedicating time and resources to advocating for local fiber conduit? The only thing I can conclude is that Google is trying to lay the groundwork to eventually expand well beyond its upcoming fiber trial. This would be facilitated by having conduit already in place around the country. Even still, as I described in my original post in February discussing the fiber experiment, wiring up communities is tough, tedious and costly work that Google has little experience with.

    If Google were actually thinking more broadly about local high-speed fiber networks, they would complement well 2 other projects - Google TV and YouTube Leanback. With more bandwidth available for over-the-top viewing, Google would have a potentially powerful competitive offering to existing pay-TV providers. In the meantime, Google has been a strong proponent of net neutrality regulations providing open access on existing broadband ISP networks.

    Google must be encouraged by the response it has gotten to the fiber experiment. The company's announcement set off a mini-circus from over 1,100 communities around the country creatively pitching themselves in the quest for some Google pixie dust to be sprinkled in their area. No doubt the recession has played a role in motivating communities to pursue private investment from Google. But though city fathers may be strong project proponents, you still have to wonder how much the average broadband user craves 1 gigabit service. Recent FCC data indicates that 91% of broadband users are either very or somewhat satisfied with the broadband speeds they have at home, with most not able to even say what speed they have.

    Google is rich enough to explore pretty much any project it desires. Until it selects which community or communities will get the fiber network and actually begins the hard work of building it out, Google is still operating somewhat in the dark. But given its new advocacy for fiber conduit and all the other piece parts, it's worth keeping a close eye on the company's progress.

    What do you think? Post a comment now (no sign-in required).