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Google Fiber getting thumbs up in Kansas City: is Google on a roll?

There was a touch of the old YouTubes when Google came to measure up the Kansas Cities for a fibre deployment, but they're not sniggering now. (see - Google boyz in the Fiberhood).

A recent survey appears to show Google Fiber in rude health and the company pushing on with more fibre cities - Provo, Utah and Austin, Texas, being the latest on the list.

Yes, it's still early days and the sniggerers could yet be proved right - but it doesn't feel that way right now.

The biggest obstacles to Google Fiber were its biggest competitors - or rather the legal and bureaucratic nightmare they could visit upon Google in an attempt to shut down the challenge.

Choosing the most hospitable regulatory and business environment (the city and state most willing to kick away any inhibitors and make a joyful fuss of Google's arrival) was obviously the main reason for the protracted beauty contest Google conducted before choosing Kansas City, Missouri as first city.

It could be that AT&T and Time Warner are biding their time and will come out with guns blazing when the time is right: so far, however, the competitive response has been muted and both companies appear to be adopting a "wait-and-see if it fails" approach. AT&T has done a little spoiling by promising similar high speed broadband service, but so far that's about it.

Google also faced accusations that it didn't know how to build a city-wide network. As it now appears to have done so, presumably that objection will fade as well.

That's the story of the initial build, what about the crucial take-up: the percentage of homes passed that take the service and so make the whole exercise worthwhile (and an example that other companies might want to follow)?

It was understood from the start that Google Fibre couldn't just be about that 1 Gig broadband access: it's being offered against triple play packages from the incumbents so must be able to almost match or beat the multi-channel TV offer in particular if it's to win a viable proportion of the homes passed.

Trouble was, Google's multi-channel TV originally on offer was deemed not to be multi- enough. While it had Viacom, Discovery, Starz and NBCU, there was originally no Disney, Time Warner or Fox News.

That's now fixed with Disney, Fox and ESPN at least, all in the line-up. Google also promises to add more content as it can, so what may have been a middle-America deal-breaker on content may no longer be a problem.

What hasn't changed is Google's aversion to plain old telephony which it had decided was not worth going to the regulatory trouble and expense of including.

So how has Google fared in it's first set of fiberhoods in Kansas City, Missouri?

The Kansas City Google Fibre announcement was made in March 2011 and build started in February 2012, so after a year, researchers Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. decided that around about now would be a good time to do some scoring.

The company conducted a door-to-door survey of 204 households across the Kansas City 'hoods' to ask about the potential customer experience.

First it found that there was "extremely high" awareness that Google was in town; and there was a high purchase intent - up to 98 per cent of citizens polled in the fiberhoods were aware of Google Fiber and 52 per cent said they would "definitely or probably buy" the service. Nineteen per cent were total refusniks saying they would definitely or probably not buy Google Fiber.

This meant that penetration could reach the mid to high teens very quickly and then go on to take an even greater share over time, says the report, which doesn't rule out Google taking up to 50 per cent of all the city's households eventually.

The most popular potential purchase by the Google enthusiasts was to buy the Google broadband/TV bundle, so clearly the channel lineup is doing its job now. In fact, if the good citizens follow through and half of them do take up Google's services, it might even throw into doubt the long-standing telecoms belief in the power of the triple play offer, which if these results are anything to go by, is on the wane.

The lack of telephony in the Google offer is clearly not an inhibitor either and the researchers point out that early technology adopters are at least considering the idea of dropping phone service altogether in favour of just using their mobiles.

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