Google: Kansas City here we come

By Stephen Hardy -- Late in March, Google finally announced Kansas City, KS, as what it subsequently assured the world would be the first community with which it would partner to provide 1-Gbps services via fiber to the home (FTTH) technology. Details of exactly how the search engine behemoth plans to proceed remained vague as this issue went to press. But it appears that Google plans to demonstrate at least one aspect of open access networking that we at Lightwave had demanded: whether such a venture can make money.

By Stephen Hardy -- Late in March, Google finally announced Kansas City, KS, as what it subsequently assured the world would be the first community with which it would partner to provide 1-Gbps services via fiber to the home (FTTH) technology. Details of exactly how the search engine behemoth plans to proceed remained vague as this issue went to press. But it appears that Google plans to demonstrate at least one aspect of open access networking that we at Lightwave had demanded: whether such a venture can make money.

Along these lines, an article posted on the website of the Kansas City Starcontains a hopeful quote from Google executive Kevin Lo. “We intend to build and operate a successful business in Kansas City, KS. It’s not a proof of concept. We’re a business,” Lo told the Star’s Scott Canon. “We expect to make money selling Internet access in Kansas City, KS.”

Which is as it should be, we believe. If a successful experience in Kansas City – and anywhere else Google decides to go – is to prove meaningful, Google has to prove that experience is repeatable by others who can’t (or, in the case of governments, shouldn’t) operate broadband networks in the red.

Google faces several obstacles in achieving a profitable network:

  • Building the network cheaply. One reason Kansas City, KS, made sense as the first Google network site was the availability of dark fiber, observers have pointed out. Google will need to leverage these resources smartly.
  • Finding other content providers to offer services over its network. We assume Google will offer some of its own services. But it likely will need several providers to wholesale bandwidth on the network to get a significant return on its investment.
  • Convincing customers to sign up. Google likely won’t have much success with getting wholesale customers to use its network until it can demonstrate significant penetration within the footprints it plans to serve. Will it connect homes and businesses without a service commitment? And will residents and business owners allow an interface device to be placed in or on their buildings if they’re not committed to receiving service via the Google network?
  • Fending off the competition from Time Warner Cable and AT&T, two companies not shy about beating back encroachment on their territory by whatever means necessary. With Google getting cozy with local government, will these incumbents take the same tack against Google as they might with a municipal network – including court fights?

Google has indicated it plans to offer services next year. But it likely will be years beyond that before any conclusions about the success of the company’s venture can be reached.

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