Editor's Corner—Google Fiber says 'adiós' to Louisville

Google Fiber Nashville
After two years of operations, Google Fiber is closing down its service in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 15. (Google Fiber)

In a rare waving of the white flag, Google Fiber announced Thursday that it was pulling up stakes in Louisville, Kentucky.

In a company blog post, Google Fiber said it was pulling the plug on its fiber-based network on April 15, but it will be footing the bill for the next two months of service. Google Fiber said the decision to close up shop in Louisville had no bearing on services in other Google Fiber cities.

Using a new shallow trenching method, Google Fiber's Louisville launch in 2017 was completed in a record time of five months, but there were issues, such as exposed fiber, associated with the rollout. In some instances, Google Fiber's install techs were digging 2-inch trenches for the fiber before covering them with a gooey substance.

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"In Louisville, we’ve encountered challenges that have been disruptive to residents and caused service issues for our customers," Google said in its blog. "We’re not living up to the high standards we set for ourselves, or the standards we’ve demonstrated in other Fiber cities. We would need to essentially rebuild our entire network in Louisville to provide the great service that Google Fiber is known for, and that's just not the right business decision for us."

Google Fiber said the lessons learned in Louisville included better microtrenching methods.

Google Fiber: Reeling in the years

In 2010, Google shook up the telecommunications industry when it first announced its plan to deploy a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) internet service with speeds of up to a gigabit per second, which was 100 times faster than the average speeds of that era.

Google Fiber first installed its service in the Kansas City area in 2012. Google Fiber drew a direct bead on Time Warner Cable with that first rollout. (Last month, some KC subscribers went without their Google Fiber service for up to 10 days following a storm.) Google Fiber subsequently targeted areas served by Comcast and AT&T for additional fiber deployments.

I can vividly recall cable executives at conferences claiming that residential customers didn't want or need 1-gig services. At one conference, a Time Warner Cable executive said the company was starting to win back customers in the Kansas City area due to dissatisfaction with the Google Fiber service.

It turns out that residential customers do want 1-gigabit services, so we can thank Google Fiber for driving that conversation forward. At CES last month, the cable industry upped the stakes in the broadband speed wars by announcing a 10-gigabit initiative.

Video is the Pac-Man of broadband capacity consumption, but residential and business customers also want faster upstream speeds these days to send files, photos and applications to the cloud.

Google Fiber's play for deploying its fiber in targeted cities included signing up customers before the first trench was even dug, which was also emulated by AT&T in the early days of its GigaPower deployments. Not surprisingly, more affluent neighborhoods were the first to tap into the faster services.

Along the way, Google Fiber learned that true FTTH deployments were a tough nut to crack. Google Fiber paused its operations in 2016, which was the same year that Google Fiber CEO Craig Barratt left the company. Barratt's successor, Gregory McRay, only lasted a few months.

RELATED: Google Fiber taps former TWC executive Jain as CEO

A year ago, Google Fiber named former Time Warner Cable executive Dinesh Jain as the new CEO of the company’s broadband-focused "Access" division.

Google Fiber mounted a comeback of sorts in 2017 with deployments in Huntsville, Alabama, Louisville and San Antonio. Google Fiber said it would continue to sign up and install customers in the remaining cities it serves, which also include Austin; Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; Orange County, California; and Salt Lake City/Provo, Utah.

For as novel as Google Fiber was back in the day, gigabit services are pretty much table stakes these days. Besides, Alphabet/Google has bigger fish to fry, such as data and privacy concerns. — Mike

Editor's Corners are opinion columns written by a member of the FierceTelecom editorial team. They are edited for balance and accuracy.