The second and third most populous cities in America could be the next municipalities to host Google’s gigabit Internet service provider, Fiber. The company announced that they want to invite the cities of Chicago and Los Angeles to explore the possibility of getting the hottest Internet service around. They’re by far the largest cities yet considered by the fledgling ISP, having previously come to just a single city with more than a million residents (San Jose). The idea is likely to be received in Chicago and LA much as it has been elsewhere: very, very well.
This is an important moment for the service, since it’s the first time Google has publicly considered going for the country’s most important urban centers. Not only does this represent a more powerful attack on the customer-base of competing ISPs, but it positions Fiber much more as a service to be desired. It’s one thing to not have some experimental thing you heard they’re getting out in Salt Lake City or something (no offense to anyone there), but quite another to have worse service than the residents of America’s big, trend-setting cities.
Los Angeles, in particular, seems to pose a particularly strong opportunity for Fiber to prove itself. It combines incredible population density in some areas with enormous urban sprawl in others. It’s got a wide variety of income levels, cultures, and languages. If Fiber can roll out in Los Angeles, it should be able to do so just about anywhere.
Some have questioned whether Google (or Alphabet? I guess is still “Google Fiber” for now…) will be able to be successfully capture the market on a national scale. The idea is that since existing ISPs already have the people and businesses in place to roll out a fiber Internet service, and in many cases actually have fiber in the ground already, they will be able to adapt and out-price Google’s offering, or simply provide gigabit Internet more quickly as Google runs around ripping up miles and miles of urban pavement.
The problem with this thinking is that it ignores how widely Google seems to be interpreting the win conditions in the online space. Obviously, the company would like to make oodles of money off of selling you the Internet, and they’d like even more to control both the physical lines of communication and the communication that goes on over those lines. However, Google didn’t decide to get into the ISP game because it saw the space as wide open and ripe for the picking, but because it saw the space as decadent, uncompetitive, and totally unprepared to deliver the services Google want stop deliver over the next decade or two.
In a very real way, if AT&T or anybody else does go on to “beat” fiber at its own game, Google will have won. The individual investors and stake holders who bet on Fiber in a particular city would be devastated, but the larger entity that is Google will have affected the change it was aiming to
December 9, 2015