(courtesy of the Florida Times-Union)
Plans to bring Google Fiber to Jacksonville are on hold, opening a window for their competitors such as Comcast and AT&T to get even more aggressive on expanding their high-speed internet service on the First Coast.
Google’s parent company is halting operations and laying off staff in a number of cities where it once hoped to bring high-speed internet access by installing new fiber-optic networks.
The company also announced that Craig Barratt, a veteran tech executive who led the ambitious — and expensive — Google Fiber program, is stepping down as CEO of Access, the division of Google corporate parent, Alphabet Inc., that operates the 5-year-old program.
In a statement, Barratt said Google Fiber will continue to provide service in a handful of cities where it’s already operating, including Atlanta; Austin, Texas; and Charlotte, N.C.
The company will put further plans on hold in at least eight more metropolitan areas where it’s been in exploratory talks with local officials. Those include Jacksonville; Dallas; Tampa; Los Angeles; Oklahoma City; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; and San Jose, Calif.
Jill Szuchmacher, who was director of expansion of Google Fiber, said last year the company would not seek incentives, subsidies or tax breaks from Jacksonville if the city agreed to allow the installation of the fiber-optic network. The company saw Jacksonville as a valuable market that has fostered a “growing tech-hub” and is developing an entrepreneurial business community.
Susie Wiles is the Jacksonville liaison for Google as the company is a client of her government affairs firm Ballard Partners. She introduced Google Fiber’s concept to many Jacksonville government, business and civic leaders.
Wiles said she was told by Google Fiber that they’d pause the proposed Jacksonville project before the company announced it publicly. She said she’s confident the company will return to finish the Jacksonville network.
“I take it completely at face value that it is a pause,” Wiles said. “It’s my belief that if there is new and better technology coming down the pike… it makes perfect sense to me why they would hit that ‘pause’ button.”
Wiles acknowledged Google Fiber officials were impressed by the welcome presented by Jacksonville leaders a year ago who essentially cheered the proposed fiber optic network and unveiled the plans at a City Hall news conference anchored by Mayor Lenny Curry.
“I’m hopeful and optimistic that they’ll be cheering it on again soon,” Wiles said. “The very nature of the technology industry is that it’s dynamic. I think this is just reflective of that.”
Requests for reaction from the mayor’s office went unanswered Wednesday.
Angela Mattia an associate professor and chairwoman of the information management department at Jacksonville University, said she’s not so sure Google Fiber can halt plans on a major proposal and return to it later.
“I think it’s in serious doubt. You don’t see Google do that very often. Once they change direction, they’re off into a new thing,” Mattia said.
Google announced plans for the fiber optic infrastructure for Jacksonville a year ago as a flurry of other companies announced similar plans.
Comcast and AT&T already had started similar projects because much of their networks were already in place.
Mindy Kramer, a Comcast spokeswoman, said the company declined comment on the Google move. Her company is moving ahead with plans for internet improvements in Jacksonville.
“We have an extensive fiber network already in place as part of our network infrastructure in Jacksonville,” Kramer said in an email Wednesday. “It’s what has enabled us to offer multi-gig speeds to residential customers via our Gigabit Pro product that was announced this past April.”
Gigabit Pro is a 2 Gigabit-per-second service delivered by fiber optics to homes, she said. That service is already available in Florida cities including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Jacksonville.
AT&T officials also declined to comment on theGoogle Fiber delay.
But AT&T spokeswoman Rosie Montalvo also said that company is well into high speed broadband expansion in dozens of cities and Jacksonville’s service is already in place.
“We’re focused on our plan,” she said, adding 75,000 customers already are using the highest speeds of AT&T 1 Gigabit service in the Jacksonville area. “We’re certainly positioned in Jacksonville as a gigabit provider.
“We plan to deliver this internet service to more locations in Jacksonville. We’ve already launched in 40 metropolitan areas and we plan on doing 67 and Jacksonville is part of that,” Montalvo said.
Google Fiber announced last October it was beginning to negotiate with Jacksonville to establish the cable infrastructure system to provide speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. That’s about 1,000 megabits per second and is much faster than average broadband services that provide about 12 megabits per second.
For an internet user, that means they could download about 25 music song files in one second with the Google Fiber speeds.
With Google Fiber now out of the way — even if it’s a temporary delay — Mattia said it appears the company’s faltering is unique to Google and AT&T and Comcast will only grow bolder.
“AT&T and Comcast have been into the whole telecommunications end of it and Google hasn’t,” Mattia said. “They [Google] also are very quick to change direction when they need to.”
A recent report by tech news site The Information said the business was under pressure by Alphabet CEO Larry Page to cut costs after failing to meet financial goals, including a target of signing up 5 million subscribers.
Mattia was quick to point out she believes the Google Fiber delay is unique to Google and the disruption of the plan is not representative of the industry. It also does not reflect negatively on Jacksonville which was selected by Google for its growing technology industry.
“I think it’s irrelevant to Jacksonville’s profile. If we were the only city that didn’t move forward, I would say then we should think about it,” Mattia said. “What we’re seeing is that they [Google] just stopped in their tracks moving forward.’