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Has Google changed its mind about sharing its fiber network?

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It looks like Google (s goog) is backing off its commitment to an open fiber to the home network. If so, that would be a blow to those hoping to also offer services over Google’s pipe as well as well as put a stop to using the project as an example of what true broadband competition at the physical level can look like.

According to my recent conversations with sources, a reading of Google’s blog and evasions by the search giant when I asked about its stance, Google’s not as into sharing as it once was. Soon after Google proposed its fiber to the home project in Kansas City, Kan. one of the product managers announced that other ISPs and services could build on top of the future network to deliver their own services.

Additionally, in its first blog posting, it stressed openness saying, “We’ll operate an “open access” network, giving users the choice of multiple service providers.”

But in the last few days I’ve heard from a few sources in the fiber community that Google has been continuing to back off its open promises, I asked a Google spokeswoman if Google was still committed to opening up its network. She told me, “We are committed to providing the best product for our customers,” and declined to comment further.

This change of heart isn’t entirely new, but with the fiber to the home project set to launch later this summer it’s worth trying to understand how far Google has come from its promises of two years ago. A blog post from June of last year shows it beginning to sidestep the question.

Q: Will Google’s infrastructure be open to other companies?
A: We plan to offer ultra high-speed Internet access directly to consumers at an affordable price. We look forward to sharing more information as we begin to develop more specific plans.

Why do we care if Google is open or not?

So far the “more information” appears to be that Google isn’t keen to share. But why is Google opening up its network such a big deal anyhow? Because fiber networks are designed to meet broadband needs for decades to come, new networks are a chance to change the competition paradigm in the U.S.

In many truly open networks, the mandate is that two or three fibers run to each premise – then access providers put equipment in at the patching point and tie in to their customers on dark fiber. This lets consumers buy Internet from one provider, TV from another and so on. Different broadband and TV providers can deliver service over different strands, which fosters true competition. The Amsterdam city network is set up this way.

But instead of having an open physical network provide competition, the U.S. went with competition from two providers — a cable operator and a telephone company. It worked for a while, but as telcos stop investing in DSL and cable providers start to become the only option for faster broadband, the market looks less competitive. It’s like saying a car competes with an electric bike (or in some cases a motorcycle).

But open fiber is more like offering service providers a road (here my analogy breaks down a bit), and they can deploy car services, bus services or whatever on top of it. And seeing the model in action in the U.S. would offer powerful data about how to build a truly competitive broadband infrastructure works.

9 Responses to “Has Google changed its mind about sharing its fiber network?”

  1. wyrdwyrd

    It’s a sad day.

    For me personally, this is final confirmation that Google has broke with it’s mission statement.

    Giving me hope that telcos and cable company giants might finally have to face *real* competition, then snatching that hope away is *definitely* evil.

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  2. Bobert

    My understanding is that the local telco (AT&T) and cable company (Time Warner) put up a big fight to keep Google out, and it’s not hard to see why.

  3. chrisconder

    With fat pipes like that you don’t need ISPs per se. The customer can buy whatever services he chooses too. Its the future. Adding ‘open access’ the way the government understands it is only adding extra costs on to the customer. Customers are quite capable of buying what they want. They have never had much choice before, it will be great to see how it all works.

  4. Google went down the path of offering a cable tv service.. Once this happened, the business model evolved to something more selfish like Verizon’s model.. just more bandwidth. Maybe this will change, maybe not… As the costs of deployment rise, so does the self interest in recouping return on investment.

  5. keninca

    Stacey, why do they have to run multiple fibers, and then involve a third party to provide access? Why can’t they run a single fiber (adding fibers only to increase total bandwidth), and then be the access provider as well? It’s all IP, if a third party wants to offer TV or voice services to consumers that are connected to the local fiber network, why do they need a discrete connection to that network? And if they do want one, can’t they just get access the way the consumers do – by renting multiple lines to their servers?

    If Google isn’t controlling the flow of traffic to subscribers, or restricting access, it’s still open. If they don’t prioritize packets, or block traffic from some services, it’s open.

    If you’re looking for somebody to just build a dark fiber network, I never got the impression that that Google’s intent. I was expecting a complete gigabit internet service for consumers, to demonstrate to carriers, cable companies, and politicians that such a network is good for the economy and economically feasible.

    • Joshua Goldbard

      They don’t need to run multiple fibers if everything is being handled by one multiplexer and all of the different service providers have access to the edge device.

      The assumption I have is that no one lays single strand fiber anywhere anymore. You need at least a return path…

      Google, while using the blocking tactic of Open-ness as a means to an end (in this case getting approval to lay a gigabit network) Google has never been all that open about anything. Sure they have some open-source initiatives, but they all tie back into helping further the Google agenda.

      So what if Google wants to be AT&T 2.0? Could they really be as bad as Ma Bell? Worse?

      I think the point here is that Google got the approval to put their network in and they don’t see any positive market position to sharing that network.

      If you want a physical network run by private operators, you certainly can’t expect any private company to build one voluntarily.

      • whatnow

        Most fiber systems use a transmit and a receive fiber but if the end electronics can process the signal you can tx/rx the signal over the sane fiber strand. Reltec developed their FTTC system using one fiber back in the 90s. I will say now that fiber has become so cheap you probability get higher speeds at a lower cost using two fibers. You also get more end electronic choices because many vendors produce the dual fiber and very few produce the single fiber electronics.