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Google Fiber is leaving Louisville in humiliating setback

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The gigabit internet service will shut down in Louisville on April 15th

Image: Google Fiber

Google Fiber’s attempt to roll out its gigabit internet across the city of Louisville, Kentucky has apparently failed so spectacularly that the company has decided to completely shut down the service and leave town altogether. CNET has a report on the news, which Alphabet’s Access division confirmed in a blog post on Thursday. “We’ll work with our customers and partners to minimize disruption, and we’re committed to doing right by the community, which welcomed us as we tested methods of delivering high-speed internet in new and different ways,” the Fiber team said. Google Fiber signups in Louisville began in October 2017.

It is yet another severe blow to Alphabet’s fiber-based residential and business broadband service, which once drew a lot of buzz before Alphabet severely curtailed investment and paused expansion. About a year ago, The Verge reported that Google Fiber would shut down its Webpass gigabit internet service in Boston. Alphabet later brought on a former Time Warner Cable executive to lead the Access unit that’s in charge of Fiber.

In Louisville, Google Fiber installation crews had been using a process called “shallow trenching” that involved laying fiber cable two inches beneath the sides of roads in the city and covering them up with sealant. The company seemed optimistic about this plan until some of the cable started becoming exposed over time, requiring a second cover-up with hot asphalt. It seems Access realized it had to go a bit deeper with the cabling; in San Antonio, a similar method is used — but the fiber is laid at least six inches deep into the ground. Google Fiber has at times faced legal challenges from rivals (like AT&T) that don’t want to share utility poles, so shallow trenching is also a way around that hurdle.

Unfortunately, things have somehow gone so awry in Louisville that Google Fiber claims it would need to rebuild the entire network to get everything to a satisfactory point, and it seems Alphabet just isn’t interested in blowing the cash that would be necessary to do that. So instead, Google Fiber will today alert Lousville customers that their service will end on April 15th.

The company will not charge those customers for their final two months of service, no doubt an attempt to soften the blow of Fiber’s pending exit. Other ISPs including AT&T offer fiber service in the city — AT&T has outpaced Google Fiber at connecting homes to fiber internet — and haven’t encountered the same trenching troubles, CNET says. But AT&T’s service is more expensive and Spectrum’s gigabit-tier internet doesn’t match Fiber’s upload speeds, according to the report. So consumers are definitely on the losing end.

The blog post says: “the lessons we’ve learned in Louisville have already made us better in our other Google Fiber cities. We’ve refined our micro-trenching methods and are seeing good outcomes elsewhere.” So Louisville allowed Google Fiber into its city and taught Alphabet some hard lessons, but now the company is pulling out and putting those learnings to use elsewhere. Ouch. And that’s after Louisville put in a lot of work on its end to make things easier for Alphabet, as local reporter Chris Otts mentions here:

At least for now, Louisville officials aren’t yet publicly voicing much anger or frustration towards Alphabet over this decision. Jean Porter, director of communications for Mayor Greg Fischer, provided The Verge with the following statement:

“From the time Louisville Metro began working with Google Fiber, we’ve believed that adding this service as a choice for residents would lead other providers to offer better services, faster speeds and lower costs. Competition is good for a market. AT&T, Spectrum, and others have stepped up and increased investment in Louisville. We look forward to working with them and others to provide residents with choices for low-cost, gigabit-speed internet access. We are also excited by our expansion of internet network capacity through the LFIT middle mile fiber initiative and 5G wireless coverage.”

Building out fiber broadband infrastructure has proven to be an incredibly expensive and challenging effort for Alphabet; the “shallow trenching” and “nanotrenching” were seen as ways of saving on costs and keeping Fiber’s expansion alive.

Currently, Google Fiber remains in these cities:

  • Huntsville, AL
  • Oakland, CA* (Webpass)
  • Orange County, CA
  • San Diego, CA* (Webpass)
  • San Francisco, CA* (Webpass)
  • Denver, CO* (Webpass)
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Chicago, IL* (Webpass)
  • Kansas City, MO / KS
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Raleigh-Durham, NC
  • Nashville, TN
  • Austin, TX
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Salt Lake City / Provo, UT
  • Seattle, WA* (Webpass)

If you’re looking for some good news in all of this, Google Fiber says that it will continue to add new customers and expand service to additional neighborhoods in those existing service regions.