Was Google’s Fiber Plan Just Saber Rattling?

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UPDATED. It has been almost 14 months since Google announced its plans to wire up an entire community with a fiber-to-the-home network that would be capable of gigabit speeds. More than 600 communities applied for the honor, but Google then changed its plans. It was going to make an announcement before the end of 2010, but Google delayed the news. Now, it’s three months later, and there’s nary a fiber to be seen.

To be fair, when Google delayed the news of which town it had selected, it did announce Milo Medin would take over the project, and the lucky town would be announced in 2011. Technically, Google and Medin have nine more months to name a winner, and Medin’s appointment in December as the head of the effort may have restarted the clock on plans. But Medin has somewhat of a shaky track record. He was the chairman of the California Broadband Task Force and the chairman and CTO of M2Z Networks, which GigaOM readers may recall as the failed effort to bring free, slow broadband to the masses. He was also the co-founder and CTO of the company that became Excite@home, which wasn’t exactly a huge success either.

I’ve asked Google for access to Medin as well as for comment on what the status of its fiber network is, but the company hasn’t responded. I’m left wondering if instead of wiring up a municipality, Google may have used its “win a fiber network” contest as a threat to bring ISPs around to its way of thinking on issues such as network neutrality and tiered broadband.

Google has a history of such threats, such as when it bid in the last wireless auction for spectrum that companies could use to deploy mobile broadband. It didn’t win, but it bid up the price and forced the FCC to write rules that would require certain winners to allow non-carrier devices on the network, a huge concession. It also pushed hard for white spaces, otherwise known as Wi-Fi on steroids, as a means to boost broadband access for mobile devices, but now that the FCC implemented rules to enable white spaces broadband, Google has been uncharacteristically quiet (as have all the other champions of the issue).

Indeed, such plays have helped Google fight back against telecommunications firms that want to charge Google for access to their pipes and control its own destiny. All that said, however, I do hope that its fiber initiative becomes a reality — and soon.

Update: Milo Medin’s name was incorrectly listed as Milo Medlin in the original post.

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