This summer, Google Fiber announced its first expansion in nearly four years. The internet provider said it will move into West Des Moines, bringing gigabit internet to residents and businesses there as part of the city’s long-term technology vision.
The collaboration created a buzz — not just because of the years-long wait to see where Google Fiber would go next, but because it was amid a global pandemic that highlighted the need for high-speed, quality internet. John Burchett, head of policy at Google Fiber, said the company couldn’t be more excited to start connecting communities across the country again.
“What gets us excited going forward is not that we’re just going to continue to move the ball forward on speed and service,” he said. “We also want to help catalyze a whole array of new entrants into markets around the country to give communities a sense of choice and competition that will help them have access to that high performance, high speed internet that we all need.”
Matching Markets and Models
Google Fiber officially launched in 2011, after the company selected Kansas City as its first city to receive the service. The goal was to bring affordable high-speed internet to Kansas City, creating a fiber backbone that offered gigabit speeds. Soon, Google Fiber announced expansions to cities across the country. From Atlanta to Austin, and Salt Lake City to Charlotte, Google Fiber’s networks were seen as exciting opportunities for growth as internet demand surged.
After several years with slower than expected progress on building those networks, in 2016, it seemed like everything stopped. Construction slowed in existing cities and never started in newly announced cities, and years went by with little news of Google Fiber overall. Burchett said that this “quiet” time gave the company a chance to focus on its business operations and to reassess its deployment model.
“We started with wildly huge ambitions, and more than a little naivety, and we were going everywhere at once,” he said. “We always had a product people loved, the challenge was learning how to run a business and build an infrastructure that was more innovative and affordable. The whole goal is to show you can build a financially successful business deploying fiber and high speed internet into communities and set the model where the costs are low enough. Part of it is working with others to help figure out the best way to do that.”
Google Fiber realized that it could incorporate different delivery models for the communities they served. Google Fiber has several different deployment models in the field currently, including building entire fiber networks from scratch, leasing fiber backhaul from others, and partnering with local municipalities and utilities to build out the network. The last model allows the city or the utility to focus on the infrastructure construction which allows for ISPs, in this case Google Fiber, to focus on delivering great internet.
For Google Fiber, this is about determining the best method to bring more high speed internet and competition to communities. “We want to enable other entrants to come in the market,” Burchett said. “We’re excited about seeding competition and choice. We believe that’s good for the consumer and good for the industry.”
Future of Google Fiber and beyond
West Des Moines’s drive toward innovation made the city an exciting and ideal partner for Google Fiber. As a part of their 2036 plan, West Des Moines committed to bringing high-speed internet to their residents through a conduit network. City leaders were laying out their plans to build a smart city, when Google Fiber joined the project as a lessee.
“When we reached out to them, they had already done a lot of thinking,” Burchett said. “They have really been focused on innovation — which makes them very desirable from our standpoint.”
Burchett said West Des Moines is an example of the future of fiber deployments — cities motivated to move forward and ensure that their residents have access to high-speed internet.
There are still substantial challenges to bringing more high-speed broadband competitors to markets. Burchett pointed to archaic permitting processes, local ordinances that affect digging and other deployment delaying barriers to entering a market. But as the world becomes more connected, he said communities are looking to change that. More and more cities are willing to do what it takes to ensure their residents have great internet, which has become essential to work, to learn, and to so many other daily activities in 2020. The pandemic has exacerbated and emphasized this need.
As we move into a more connected future, Burchett predicts even more cities will be lining up to streamline their processes to allow companies like Google Fiber to move in. He said he’s proud of the work Google Fiber has done to fine tune its internal processes and deployment methods, and that it’s working to ensure future proof networks for years to come, including recently announcing testing of a 2 Gig service.
“People thought we were crazy 10 years ago when we launched with 1 Gig,” he said. “They said, ‘No one needs that much internet, there’s no use case for it.’ We’re proud that we set a high bar in terms of speed and in terms of customer service. We’re proud to continue and expand it. We want to work with people like the Fiber Broadband Association to build a movement around these issues — around competition, around incentivizing high speed, high performance internet. The whole ecosystem is going to have to come together to really think about these things. We as a country need to figure out how to deliver it.”