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.