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Broadband's Impact

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Promotes Google Fiber’s Impact on Competition and Gigabit Networks

Drew Clark



WASHINGTON, September 5, 2014 - Google Fiber has been perhaps the primary driver of the current push toward high-speed internet in the United States, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a speech here yesterday on the future of broadband competition.

In an otherwise general speech that failed to mention major communications companies like Verizon Communications, Comcast or Time Warner, Wheeler attributed the introduction of fiber-optic competition to Google's bold gambit -- announced in February 2010 -- to enter the communications space by beginning to build Gigabit Networks.

We’ve seen what happens when companies like Google bring new competition in the form of gigabit service to cities like Kansas City and Austin. In Kansas City, the cable company responded with its own upgrade to gigabit service; in Austin, it was the telephone company that upgraded competitively with its own ultra-high-speed service.

In fact, AT&T has announced plans to deploy gigabit fiber to 21 major metropolitan markets. Many of these are in same markets where Google has announced plans to lay fiber.

A year ago, Cox Cable said it wouldn’t be upgrading to gigabit networks because it would cost billions. Now it says it will, starting with communities where Google and CenturyLink are deploying fiber.

This is all great news. We applaud the investment by incumbents and new entrants alike that have brought better broadband to Americans. Clearly, the infrastructure companies are voting with their checkbooks to say that competition and investment not only can coexist, but also that they can drive each other to produce both profit and progress.

In Wheeler's telling, Google Fiber's entry to the market marked a similar instance of what has been referred to as "facilities-based" competition.

As Wheeler said:

The path from narrowband, to broadband, to high-speed broadband, was forged by competition. In order to meet the competitive threat of satellite services, cable TV companies upgraded their facilities. When the Internet went mainstream, they found themselves in the enviable position of having greater network capacity than telephone companies.

Confronted by such competition, the telcos upgraded to DSL, and in some places deployed all-fiber, or fiber-and-copper networks. Cable companies further responded to this competition by improving their own broadband performance. All this investment was a very good thing.

The simple lesson of history is that competition drives deployment and network innovation.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Wheeler touched extremely lightly on the hot-button issues of network neutrality, an issue that has earned him criticism from some on the left; and on and municipal fiber competition, an issue that has earned him criticism from some on the right.

He referred to the costs of switching from one broadband network to another as an example of why the D.C. Circuit Court affirmed one small part of the FCC's open internet order from 2010.

On the issue of municipal broadband, in which the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, Tenn., and the city of Wilson, N.C., have asked the FCC to preempt state laws against community broadband networks, Wheeler said only: "As we understand the petitions from two communities asking us to pre-empt state laws against citizen-driven broadband expansion to be [examples of efforts to create competition], which is why we are looking at that question so closely."

Wheeler's analysis about the importance of Google Fiber to the landscape of Gigabit Networks today in many ways echos the views of Blair Levin, the former head of the FCC's National Broadband Plan and executive director at Gig.U, an effort to promote Gigabit Network throughout the country.

In its third annual report last month, titled "Game of Gigs," the non-profit group said:

While we are proud of the efforts by Gig.U communities, there is no doubt that the prime force in driving moving us into the 'Game of Gigs' has been the Google Fiber effort, which has already announced deployments in Kansas City, Austin and Provo. Google has further announced that it would enter into discussions with 34 communities in 9 regions (three regions of which have been involved with the Gig.U effort) with the hope -- though not the guarantee -- that Google will deploy its fiber networks in those communities.


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