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Google Fiber Missteps Could Tarnish Brand

By Jeff Kagan
Feb 22, 2019 11:55 AM PT

This winter has been very rough on Google Fiber, Alphabet's high-speed Internet service. An overabundance of snow, ice and water have caused service outages. Why do these issues not seem to hamper competitors?

Google Fiber Missteps Could Tarnish Brand

The latest news is that the service is leaving Louisville, supposedly due to a faulty installation process. Why not correct the faults? What is the real problem at Google Fiber?

Traditional competition starts with the local phone and cable television companies. That category includes large companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Charter, as well as loads of smaller players.

Google Fiber started several years ago when Alphabet became impatient. It wanted to make faster Internet widely available. So, it entered the market space, posing a threat to the traditional providers.

Google was not in the service business at the time, as I noted back then. It offered search, mobile with Android, and an assortment of other businesses, but not services. I believed that Google simply wanted to put pressure on the existing competitors to speed their progress.

Entering the service business was a completely new and different business model for the company. That's why I figured it was simply trying to act as a catalyst, and as soon as competitors cranked up their speeds, Google Fiber would fade into the sunset.

However, something different happened. Although many competitors are now blazingly fast, having increased their speeds several times over, Google Fiber has not gone away.

Snail's Pace Expansion

When Google Fiber launched, I figured that if the goal was to become a serious competitor, the company would bring its existing brand relationship and value, and really crank it up. I expected to see an incredible growth engine ignite -- if that was the case.

Nothing like that happened. Instead, Google Fiber has been advancing at a snail's pace, which is not very Google-like. This limited activity has been damaging to the Google brand over time.

Today, we simply do not know what to expect. Alphabet has made absolutely no sense with its weak Google Fiber activity over the last several years.

The big broadband players are still local phone companies and cable TV companies. The next step may be wireless with 5G coming.

What Is Alphabet's Plan?

Over the last several years, Alphabet's Google Fiber objectives have been hazy.

In the early years, cities were lining up hoping to be next in line for the service. They saw it as a way of gaining a competitive advantage over other cities, drawing business activity and jobs. However, in the years since that initial flurry of interest, the Google Fiber talk has died down.

It appears that Google Fiber is falling off the radar.

This winter's service outages due to ice and water have created ill will among users, which is further damaging to the Google brand.

Now, it is pulling out of Louisville. The reason, according to the company, is that it made a mistake when installing fiber around the city. It had crews cut the road to lay the fiber. Then they filled it with rubber to seal the wound.

The rubber apparently gave way after a while, and wires now are poking up into streets. Instead of fixing the mess the bad installation created by reinstalling the fiber the right way and continuing to build in the city, the company decided to pull out.

That is a slap in the face to Louisville, and it's something that may haunt Google for years to come, further damaging its master brand.

Looking at Google Fiber in light of these mistakes, one has to wonder if the company bit off more than it could chew.

Where Is the Real Google?

If Google had entered the space and then pulled out quickly when competitors got fast enough, it would have looked brilliant and heroic. Instead, the company is starting to look like the gang who couldn't shoot straight.

These self-inflicted wounds are really a shame. I really like Google, so this is hard for me to say. However, every powerful company has home runs and strikeouts, and this latest error is a whopper.

So, what's next for Google Fiber? Your guess is as good as mine. Google's history includes a mixture of wins and losses. Either Google Fiber has caused enough brand damage and the company will exit the business, or it will continue.

If it continues, it should pull out the stops and become a winning competitor in the broadband space. However, if it hasn't done that yet, I don't think it will start now.

Google Fiber is very unlike the go-getting, rapidly growing company we think of when we think of the Google master brand.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.


Jeff Kagan has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2010. His focus is on the wireless and telecom industries. He is an independent analyst, consultant and speaker. Email Jeff.


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