So, is Google Fiber a serious ISP, or a cute experiment? When Google started, there was a lot of worry that the effort was little more than a PR exercise designed to light a fire under the nation’s broadband duopoly. And indeed it did function that way; the company’s promise of symmetrical gigabit broadband for $70 a month consistently puts Google’s name in papers nationwide as an innovator, while generating a heated debate over exactly why the US broadband market is so uncompetitive in so many areas.
Still, concerns about Google Fiber’s seriousness as a “real ISP” continue to plague the effort to this day, especially among those tied to the traditional telecom businesses Google Fiber is disrupting.
Plenty has been made about the fact the service has only been deployed to a portion of five markets (Austin, Kansas City, Provo, and now Atlanta and Nashville) half a decade after launch. A lot was also recently made about the fact that the company has just 53,000 TV subscribers (broadband user are estimated to be somewhere between 200 and 300k at the moment).
But sources tell Recode that while the free PR was originally seen as a worst case scenario, Google Fiber is meeting all the company’s internal goals, and the carrier has every intention of making Google Fiber a major nationwide player in the broadband space:
Back when Fiber began, a high-ranking Google executive laid out the worst-case scenario for the search giant, former Fiber staffers recalled: Google pours billions into a few test markets, scares the incumbents into speeding up their service, but never gets traction. Worst case is still very good for Google, since the company relies on people going online and searching for things.
But the worst case never happened. People familiar with Fiber say it has hit its initial customer targets in its first three markets selling broadband to about 30 percent of the homes it has hooked up for service, the industry standard for feasibility. Fiber brought in roughly $100 million in revenue last year, according to sources.
While Google Fiber is still derided on some fronts as all hype, the impact the service has had on competition (both real competition and conversations about it) can’t be under-stated. The service has even helped draw attention on the need for public/private partnerships to shore up broadband coverage gaps, and the awful, protectionist laws ISPs employ to ensure the duopoly status quo can’t be challenged by such arrangements. Google Fiber has also worked closely with municipalities looking for better broadband, all benefits that it’s hard to affix a hard financial metric to.
And while Google Fiber currently only exists in five markets, plans are underway in various capacities to expand the network in 17 more, many of them sprawling markets like Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Atlanta. The company’s also started experimenting with millimeter wave broadband as a way to reduce costs and dramatically expand its footprint. So whatever you believe Google Fiber is, there’s a whole lot more of it coming down the pike.