Broadband Atlas

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  May 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of NGN.

Broadband Wars was the headline of NGN Magazine’s last cover story, which published in January. It talked about how big cable TV companies started out as the leaders in the broadband arena, being first to market with widespread high-speed Internet access, but how, over time, the balance has shifted between the telcos and cablecos in terms of which group offers the highest data rates and which has the most broadband customers.

Clearly, the companies that started life as cable TV companies and telephone companies are still the primary providers of broadband connectivity. Their position as owners and operators of these networks is both a huge strategic benefit for them in terms of their place in the market (although they are still settling on the business strategies to enable them to benefit from that fully) and something of a burden (given they have to continue to support broadband even when over-the-top competitors capture some of the spoils). And the rise of mobile broadband and smart devices, and the federal government’s broadband stimulus program, has enabled further expansion of this opportunity for these facilities-based service providers.

But in recent months we’ve been hearing about moves by other players into the facilities-based broadband arena.

A little more than a year ago, friend of President Obama and Google Chairman and (now former) CEO Eric Schmidt (News - Alert) started talking about the search giant’s plan to bring 1-gigabit speeds to homes in select communities via fiber-to-the-home networks it promised to build. This FTTH network effort, which the federal government helped promote as part of its broadband stimulus program/National Broadband Plan effort, would help Google (News - Alert) and the industry at large somehow gain a deeper understanding of broadband, it was said.

Google went on to invite U.S. communities to apply for the honor of being selected for this FTTH effort, and it reportedly received more than a thousand requests. Then, on March 30, Google finally selected a winner. And the winner is: Kansas City, Kan.

According to a Google blog, the company has signed a development agreement with the city and plans to work closely with local organizations including Kauffman Foundation, KCNet and the University of Kansas Medical Center to develop “gigabit applications of the future.” Google selected Kansas City, it says, because it believes it’s a place where it can “build efficiently, make an impact on the community and develop relationships with local government and community organizations.”

This is clearly a move forward on the part of Google, which as a GigaOm story posted just days before the search giant made the announcement on March 30, was nearing the end of the first quarter of 2011 with no word yet on the FTTH effort. But the proof that Google is serious about this plan will come when the rubber hits the road (or the fiber hits the dirt, as it were).

Indeed, there is no doubt still more than a little skepticism about Google’s true intentions to get into the business of building fiber-to-the-home networks.

GigaOm reporter Stacey Higginbotham probably spoke for many people in writing in the above-mentioned piece: “I’m left wondering if instead of wiring up a municipality, Google may have used its ‘win a fiber network’ contest as a threat to bring ISPs around to its way of thinking on issues such as network neutrality and tiered broadband.”

The same piece questioned the credentials of Milo Medin, who Google has tapped to lead its FTTH effort, but who has less than a stellar record relative to his past broadband pursuits. (GigaOm reports that the former chairman of the California Broadband Task Force was chairman and CEO of M2Z (News - Alert) Networks, which promised to bring free broadband to the masses, and was co-founder and CTO of the precursor to Excite@home.)

Edited by Stefania Viscusi