Blog Post

Google Doesn't Want to Be an ISP — It Wants to Be a Rabble-rouser

Minnie Ingersoll

Google (s goog) rocked my world today when it unveiled its experimental fiber network, complete with speeds of 1 gigabit per second to the home. Already the Google-as-ISP meme has pervaded the technology world, but I don’t think Google is in this to be a traditional ISP. Rather, it wants to build out a fiber-to-the-home network to show the U.S. the future of communications — a far more frightening prospect for existing ISPs, and one that has big implications for entrepreneurs and consumers.

I wrote late last year about the future of communications in an all-IP world and noted that even the Federal Communications Commission is preparing for that day. Google clearly is as well, as we can see from products like Google Voice and its cloud efforts. To figure out why Google has declared war on the existing communications network with this plan, I chatted with Minnie Ingersoll, a product manager for alternative access at Google. Her group works on such issues as white spaces broadband, spectrum auctions and Google’s filings with the FCC related to the National Broadband plan.

GigaOM: Why this? Why now?

Minnie Ingersoll: Some of this is because it’s a natural follow-on to the work we’ve done in response to the National Broadband Plan. Some of that advocacy includes saying the government should set up testbeds to set up super-fast connections, so we said, “How about we step up and put our money where our mouth is and offer one of these high-speed test beds ourselves?” Getting faster and cheaper Internet access is really core to the mission of the team that I work on.

GigaOM: You’re calling for community involvement. Does that mean the government needs to offer tax breaks, stimulus funds or access?

Ingersoll: We’re not looking for government funding or subsidies here. It is a community partnership, if you will. One of the things we learned from municipal Wi-Fi is we need to have an engaged, excited community. We need to find a place where we can get users to use this service, what infrastructure is available and how the local contracting process works.

GigaOM: Google has a reputation for building its own gear inside its data centers. Free, the French ISP, has managed to lower its operational costs and the cost to subscribers by building some of its own telecommunications gear. Will you guys do that with your fiber network?

Ingersoll: When you mentioned Free, I thought you were going to ask about its openness, so I could talk about our thoughts on openness which we are replicating from the Europeans. But it’s a little too early to know exactly what were going to do in terms of the hardware, and we have not fleshed out all the partnerships yet.

GigaOM: By getting into the ISP business Google will expose itself to new regulations. What are the expectations there for you?

Ingersoll: We expect to be regulated in the same way as anyone else is regulated. We don’t plan a video or voice offering. Our fiber to the home is strictly an IP data pipe. We will be governed by the regulations that apply there and are not seeking special treatment.

GigaOM: What is the timing on the network?

Ingersoll: We’ll be seeking to identify a community this year. Beyond that the timing will depend a lot on what communities we partner with.

GigaOM: Google said it would offer a competitive price. How will that be determined?

Ingersoll: It’s too early to make commitments to the price, but part of the goal is to have services that users are actually using, so we are pricing it to encourage people to use it.

GigaOM: That’s a phenomenally fast connection. What will people use it for?

Ingersoll: Think back to when we all had dial-up and no idea what would be possible once we moved into this broadband world. This is like that, and that’s where the open nature of the network is important. We have a lot of Google engineers who are excited and experimenting with apps and services on the network but the openness part is just for developers to offer products and services on top of the network. We’re looking for  innovation on the deployment such as new deployment techniques and technologies.

GigaOM: So if I have a new edge router or an optical network termination design, I should call you?

Ingersoll: Yes! We think that faster, improved Internet access is possible and we hope to take the learning from this test bed to the world.

GigaOM: It has to be asked: Is Google going to become an ISP?

Ingersoll: We are not planning to roll out a nationwide ISP network. This is a test bed for innovation.

32 Responses to “Google Doesn't Want to Be an ISP — It Wants to Be a Rabble-rouser”

  1. I think all that Google wants to do is goose existing ISP providers into upgrading horribly shoddy crap they have. They now have no incentive to do so and will not unless shot in the foot (oh, I’m sorry, until the ‘Invisible Hand’ does something or other…). Sigh. Google is probably only looking at sites that already have a huge investment in what is now black cable, ie all of that crap that the dot.boom.busts laid down in the 80/90’s.

    • Google isn’t going to change how they operate. In response to Blandy’s “Google doesn’t make cell phones. They make an OS for cell phones.” She is absolutely right. Google loves to work in the background, making deals with others in order to make their own profits. With that, you all should read this article:

      I, like many others, believe this hits the nail on the head. It’s how Google has always operated. It makes perfect sense.

  2. Minnie Ingersoll is one of countless examples of why Google is so often referred to as “the giant”. Google Fiber for Communities is an opportunity of a lifetime. Longview, Texas hopes to welcome Google with open arms in what will become an invaluable community partnership.

  3. Brett Glass

    Minnie, I and my fellow independent ISPs will fight your proposal to the death wherever it threatens to rear its ugly head. Your rapacious, corrosive, corrupting corporate monopoly has no right to harm hard working local businesses and the communities they serve. Be warned: we will oppose you, and we will WIN.

    • Brett,

      You seem to be missing the point about an open infrastructure. Independent ISPs should be cheered by efforts to build fiber that they are not locked out of. A model like Europe – where all carriers can share the common fiber plant, can’t be a bad thing (unless you are the incumbent who is not innovating today.)

      -Dane J.

  4. Ummm…. if the connection isn’t terribly asymmetric, this could get us back to the original Internet idea of egalitarian origination and collaboration – i.e., without the currently incumbent corporate filters. To me, THAT is the most ‘game-changing’ aspect of the idea — and if I were an old ‘new’ media company, I’d be worried about my financials going forward, too.

  5. Stacey, have you forgotten that Google also said they didn’t want to make a cell phone?

    Don’t get me wrong; I think Google offering broadband plans for say $9.95 a month (or free if we have to watch an ad every 30 minutes or so or), is a good thing. Cable and DSL companies are getting away with higher and higher fees or trying to sell us plans we don’t want (trying getting cable internet in New York WITHOUT getting a Phone plan also).

    However, where I think Google is ultimately headed is pushing out the phone companies, not so much the Cable or Broadband companies like Comcast or Cablevision. $39 is still not too bad for high speed access.

    But google knows this isn’t the future, wi/fi and highspeed 3G/4G IS the future and right now for example I’m paying $180 a month for a phone plan with 2 Iphones on it.

    THAT is where consumers are getting ripped off and Google knows it and sees that as their target. The clues are here already: last year offering free wi/fi at select locations, the development of their phones and Chrome and whatnot.

    But never believe Google when they say they have no interest in something. Of course they do.

    • Brett Glass

      Fortunately, Paul, while you sit online being rude and snarky, Wyoming’s state legislature (like the legislatures of many other states) did the right thing and sensibly made anticompetitive projects such as the one proposed by Google illegal many years ago.

      • Brett Glass

        Mark, as usual your comments are disingenuous. I operate a small, independent, competitive, rural ISP: a true, hard working local business that creates jobs and serves my community. We have, and welcome, fair competition. But Google’s aim is to be anticompetitive. What Google wants to see is broadband as a monopoly municipal utility, run at a loss that is made up via taxpayer dollars, with all commercial ISPs dead and gone. This would be great for Google (because it has a powerful lobbying engine and could, via regulatory capture, set all the rules for the network — as it is now trying to do at the FCC). But it would be bad for consumers. There would be no choice of carriers, because the taxpayer-subsidized one would drive the ones that had to earn their keep out of business. And with the end of competition would come the end of innovation. Great for Google, bad for everyone else.

  6. Google’s actions create the opportunity to get people to recognize that big broadband is what we should aspire to, NOW. Their goal to create open communications infrastructure in a local environment with strong local leadership and support is exactly the prescription for a big broadband everywhere in the US, the exact mix that fellow one Gig announcer, One Community, has perfected over the years. One Community in Ohio is expanding its community-centered broadband activities in a powerful way through the enthusiastic cooperation of many diverse organizations. They have spent many years overcoming the typical corporate and political objections that stop big broadband deployment.

  7. Judit Young

    “When you mentioned Free, I thought you were going to ask about its openness, so I could talk about our thoughts on openness which we are replicating from the Europeans.”

    One of the more interesting aspects to this project, yet Stacey didn’t bite. I’d like to hear more, especially given the “openness hurts investment” meme pushed by the telcos.

  8. I think this is a case where Google needs to focus on a community that matters. What does that mean? it means, if they pick a small town in rural Montana no one will care. It will make for a great demo, but it won’t prove out how a highspeed service would compete with traditional services, and it won’t show what a metro area will do.

    Similarly, going into Detroit has good altruistic outputs, but it won’t spur telcos into more action.

    If the goal is to get everyone to install fibre to the home, then Google needs to pick a city that will put its lab on the map. And yet, this city can’t be SO special that it invalidates the test. NY/Boston is probably too difficult and populous, SF is too “special” as are nearly all the communities in the bay area. Austin seems ideal to me, but any place with a good mix of urban and suburban, and high-tech/low-tech industries should work.

  9. Michael C

    I think Google should look to some of these municipalities that were passed over by the larger ISP, and who are desperately trying to get a muni-broadband project off the ground. Here you have the need, the community desire, and no justification for larger ISPs to complain.

  10. As much as I’d like Google to treat my house as a worthy community for its rollout, perhaps the company could ask for a bit of special consideration from municipalities. For example, say an inner city — Detroit or New Orleans, to name two — were badly damaged or in need of repair. Google could ask for an exemption from certain fees or taxes in exchange for the repair would that usually takes place after tearing up a street to lay fiber. The city gets new (or at least better) roads or sidewalks where the work was done, along with the fiber necessary to boost economic development. I’m sure there are plenty of other (and more expensive) considerations, but it would be nice for everyone to win in this case.