google fiber triple playGoogle failed to deploy gigabit internet and video service to parts of the Kansas City metro area in the timeframe it promised, according to a report published by local media outlet Kansas City Star. According to the report, the Kansas Corporation Commission confirmed that Google missed deadlines to bring service throughout four Kansas cities — Mission Hills, Westwood, Westwood Hills and Kansas City. Google said in 2012 that it planned to bring service throughout those cities within five years, the Star reported.

The report cited a letter from a Google attorney to the commission stating that the company still hopes to serve 100% of those service areas, but was not able to do so in time to meet the deadline.

The Kansas City Star has taken its watchdog role quite seriously with regard to Google Fiber. The report about the Google missed deadlines was followed a few days later by an editorial from the Star’s editorial board questioning the benefits Google Fiber had brought to the Kansas City area.

The editorial noted, for example, that Google’s commitment to install free high-speed internet service for non-profits in the area is expected to end by January, even though 40 non-profits have not yet been connected. According to the editorial, Google Fiber “has changed Kansas City but hasn’t transformed it.”

This attitude is quite different from what Telecompetitor experienced in another gigabit city — Chattanooga, where local utility EPB was the first U.S. network operator to undertake a citywide gigabit rollout and where local supporters helped leverage the gigabit rollout to attract numerous high-tech companies to the community, bringing new jobs and generally helping to revitalize the community.

High-speed broadband in Kansas City hasn’t exactly been lacking community support, either, and has generated some important results for the community such as a smart city initiative, the salvaging of a failing municipal network in North Kansas City that brought free internet connectivity to the area, and the boosting of Kansas City’s bond rating.

The Star’s editorial doesn’t mention any of these things, nor does it provide much evidence to back up its assertion that Google’s impact on the community has been lackluster. Instead, the editorial focuses on shifts in Google’s own strategy — and the missed deadlines are viewed as just one example of how Google itself may have lost its enthusiasm for fiber gigabit.

Google Missed Deadlines
Kansas City was the first market where Google announced plans to deploy gigabit service using FTTH. Subsequently the company added several other markets – and the deployment delays in Kansas City raise the question of whether the company also may miss deadlines in some of those other markets.

News of the Google missed deadlines comes at a time when the company has scaled back on its plans to deploy fiber-to-the-home service to support gigabit service. In 2016, the company temporarily halted plans to expand to additional markets.  Subsequently the company said it was deploying service in Louisville but did not detail whether that would be a FTTH or fixed wireless deployment.

I would argue, though, that even if Google has lost interest in gigabit, or fiber gigabit specifically, it shouldn’t discourage other communities from pursuing high-speed networks, as the benefits to a community can be substantial and there is substantial downside risk in not keeping up to date with technology. In addition, it would appear that AT&T, cable companies and some other network operators are finding a business case for deploying gigabit networks, judging by how aggressively they are pursuing those deployments.

Whither Fiberhoods?
To me the biggest concern that could arise from the Google missed deadlines involves the “fiberhood” approach that the company pioneered in Kansas City but later adopted in other markets and which other network operators also have used extensively.

The fiberhood approach enabled Google to target rollouts initially to neighborhoods that expressed the greatest interest in high-speed internet service by paying a service deposit. If the company does not ultimately roll out service to 100% of a city, that could leave lower-income neighborhoods without service.

And that could cause policymakers in other cities to be more wary about allowing other network operators to use a fiberhood approach when they deploy gigabit service, which in turn has the potential to slow the pace of gigabit rollouts.