Friday, April 19, 2013

Google Fiber plus ubiquitous, free WiFi -- an offer your mayor cannot refuse

Google Fiber started in Kansas City. Based on that experience, they expanded to nearby Olathe, Kansas and hi-tech cities Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah will be next.

There has been a lot of speculation about Google's intention. Is Google Fiber just a proof of concept designed to spur the incumbent ISPs on? Were they picking hi-tech cities hoping to see some futuristic application development? Or, were they planning to become a nationwide ISP?

We got a hint when Eric Schmidt said Google Fiber was a "real business" and we read estimates of the cost of the Kansas City network and of a nationwide build-out.

Jason Calacanis has no doubt about Google's intention. His latest blog post is entitled "Google's Fiber Takeover Plan Expands: Will Kill Cable & Carriers."

You should read it for yourself, but I want to focus on one claim he makes:

More importantly, every Google Fiber home will have a public wifi component. In order to get Google Fiber, you’re going to have to agree to put a router in that lets anyone use a portion of your bandwidth.

That’s not announced, but it’s gonna happen.
His contention is bolstered by the fact that Google is an investor in Fon. I wrote about Fon a few years ago in a post about people owning their own Internet infrastructure and providing decentralized backhaul for Wifi. Fon gave users free, open WiFi routers, but there were two problems.

For Fon to succeed, the open modems had to be ubiquitous. I was an original "Fonista," but there were only a few others in my part of Los Angeles. The second problem was backhaul speed. I had a slow DSL connection at the time. If a lot of neighbors and passersby had connected to my Fon router, it would have impacted my connectivity.

Those problems disappear if Fon is tied to Google Fiber. Google Fiber is such a good deal that it would become ubiquitous and, if you have gigabit service, you won't notice the load imposed by WiFi users.

Google needs cooperation with cities if Google Fiber is to succeed. One "carrot" they have been offering is free connectivity for community sites like libraries and hospitals. What if they sweeten the pot with ubiquitous WiFi? That is an offer the mayor cannot refuse.

Google has another asset. Recall that the decision to start in Kansas City was based on a proposal from the city. I don't know how many proposals Google received or what the cities offered, but Topeka joked about changing the city name to Google and Kansas City offered significant subsidies. I bet Google got some sweet offers.  I know they got a sweet sales-lead list.

If Jason Calacanis is right, and I do hope he is, this is the beginning of the end of business as usual for wired and wireless ISPs (aka cell phone companies).

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Update 4/26/2013

Time Warner Cable says they will offer free Wi-Fi in Austin (http://bit.ly/Y1vSUX).  It seems they got Google's message.  That being said -- I wonder whether they will be able to deliver.  What will be their backhaul strategy?