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Google’s 'America’s got Fiber' show announces four finalists and five hopefuls


Isambard Kingdom Brunel standing in front of some Victorian communications infrastructure.

Google has torn open the envelope and, after one of those ridiculous, tension-building, dead air silences, so beloved of television shows, has  ‘announced’ the winner(s) of ‘America’s got Fiber’.

Step up Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh Durham. These are the latest cities in the US to be selected (after an intensive municipal beauty contest) to become Google Fiber ‘gigabit cities’.

After a lot of planning and calculation, round two of the competition will commence: incentivising winning residents to pre-order so their neighbourhoods get included early in the build-out.

So far Google Fiber’s 1Gbit/s service is active in Provo, Utah; Austin, Texas; and Kansas City. The just-announced new winners are all clustered in the southeastern states, but the next round of hopefuls will see Google heading back to the west coast via Phoenix and San Antonio to Salt Lake City, San Jose and Portland: the cities now selected as the ‘maybes’ for the next round of the competition.

Google Fiber’s top-end subscriber price tag of around $125 per month for Internet and a limited TV service would be viewed as expensive in the UK, say, even allowing for the extra speed…  but that’s what clever marketing can do for you.

It’s a brilliant format which, along with Google’s experiments with balloon-delivered Internet and its most recently uncovered foray into wireless access with what looks more and more like a ‘WiFi first’ strategy, has the cumulative effect of profiling the cookie monster as a sort of digital Isambard Kingdom Brunel, driving the essential communications network forward and innovating its way around obstacles.

Like it or not, Google has been seen to throw down a 1 Gbit/s gauntlet to AT&T and the cable companies and they are responding with competing activity.

AT&T has brought gigabit-capable U-verse to Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, and cities in North Carolina and has plans for a slew more, it claims, with the eventual goal of bringing service to  100 cities. Although, going on its past track record this must be taken with a large dose of salt.

Comcast also has plans for this year - details to come.

If nothing else Google has shown conclusively that you can actually make network deployment sexy if you go about it the right way. Traditionally, broadband network trenching and laying - thinking particularly of cable network building in the UK - has been viewed as something to be done as quickly and as anonymously as possible, ideally in the dead of night.  I asked at the time (in the early 1990s) why my cable company didn’t make a big play of its coming to town, all the better to get people enthused.

Not only did they emphatically not do that, I was informed, but they let the network lie fallow for 6 weeks or so before beginning marketing, so that potential customers “had forgotten about all the mess and disruption of us digging up the streets.”  

Give householders something to moan about (digging up the streets, traffic diversions etc) and they will.  But what if you got them to think of the benefits of the network’s arrival first - then the digging might actually become free marketing.

How do you get them, or a goodly proportion of them, to enthuse?  

Make a game of it. That essentially is what Google has done in promoting its ‘gigabit cities’. And along with pinning on the ‘gigabit’ go-faster stripe and offering the confection at what appears, in the US at least, to be a reasonable price for a top-end service, it’s been successful at profiling network building as a benefit, not an inconvenience.

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