Tag Archives: google

Google Fiber says no settlement, CPUC to decide protest of Webpass deal

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Big or small?

Google Fiber won’t agree to a settlement with the only group to lodge a protest in California to its acquisition of Webpass, an independent Internet service provider. The deal requires approval from the California Public Utilities Commission because Webpass is certified as a competitive telecoms company, which makes it a regulated public utility.

This sort of review is usually routine. Exceptions are generally the result of past problems with CPUC rules – not an issue in this case – or occur when the companies involved are major players in California’s telecoms ecosystem. Charter Communications’ successful purchase of Time Warner and Comcast’s failed attempt to do much the same are two recent examples. Webpass and Google Fiber do not play in that league and neither the CPUC’s office of ratepayer advocates or any of the usual outside “intervenors” – organisations that make a living by protesting or otherwise getting directly involved in proceedings – raised any concerns about the transaction.

Except one. The National Diversity Coalition – an umbrella group that includes more than a dozen minority-focused organisations – challenged Google’s purchase of Webpass and called for a deeper investigation into whether the deal serves the public interest, and in particular how it would affect the communities it claims to represent. It is a standard tactic and is often used to extract concessions from the companies involved, sometimes for benefits that flow to the general public – Charter’s obligation to upgrade broadband service in redlined areas is an example – but also sometimes for payments or other perks that go directly to the intervenors themselves.

NDC’s argument boils down to Google is a big company, so it should get the full treatment. As is standard procedure in these cases, the two sides held settlement talks, but judging from the statement Google filed with the CPUC last week, NDC wanted a truckload of data regarding finances, corporate policy and practices and other matters that companies usually consider to be proprietary. All in an effort, Google said, “to extract various conditions and commitments from [Google and Webpass] wholly unrelated to the limited transaction before the CPUC”.

So instead of agreeing to NDC’s demands in exchange for it dropping its protest, Google is kicking the decision back to the CPUC administrative law judge and commissioner who are assigned to the case. A conference is scheduled for Wednesday morning in San Francisco.

I assisted the City of Gonzales in its challenge to Charter at the CPUC and its subsequent and successful negotiations. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.

Google finds dropping cable off a boat is easier and faster than digging up streets

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Google might be defaulting, excuse me, pivoting to wireless broadband technology in last mile broadband markets, but it appears to be moving full speed ahead with laying underseas fiber to connect continents. And Facebook is sailing right alongside.

Google, Facebook, TE Connectivity – the former Tyco Electronics – and Pacific Light Data Communication, a Hong Kong-based start up, are partnering to build a submarine cable between Los Angeles and Hong Kong, with a completion target of summer 2018. According to a Google blog post

The Pacific Light Cable Network will have 12,800 km of fiber and an estimated cable capacity of 120 Tbps, making it the highest-capacity trans-Pacific route, a record currently held by another Google-backed cable system, FASTER. In other words, PLCN will provide enough capacity for Hong Kong to have 80 million concurrent HD video conference calls with Los Angeles.

FASTER – a collaboration between Google and a consortium of Asian telecoms companies – went online this summer, linking Oregon to Japan. Google is getting 10 terabits per second of capacity – one-sixth of the total – on that cable. And it has ownership stakes in four other submarine cable projects.

Facebook has also wet its feet in the trans-oceanic fiber game, joining Microsoft and Telefonica as investors in a planned route between Virginia and Spain. That’s scheduled to come online next year.

It’s not a business venture as such for either Google or Facebook. Instead, it’s the kind of classic make versus buy choice that’s leading both companies down the path toward greater vertical integration.

Cable, telcos use monopoly muscle to block access to California poles

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Barrier to competition.

Google still can’t get access to utility poles in the Bay Area. Whether or not it still wants it is an open question – Google closed its purchase of the wireless Internet service provider side of Webpass this week – but even if it doesn’t, the blocking action by incumbents anxious to protect monopoly markets has caught the attention of California regulators.

The California Public Utilities Commission was told last week that the club that controls pole access – the Northern California Joint Pole Association – has again rejected Google’s requests for membership and permission to use poles. Commissioner Liane Randolph had asked staff to look into it, and the report back was that a minority of association members was stalling Google’s application. That’s consistent with complaints from Google earlier this year that it was being unfairly, and perhaps illegally, blocked. The California cable industry’s lobbying front, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, took the position then that Google wasn’t really a cable company, despite a CPUC decision that said yes, it is.

Randolph said that’s a problem that needs to be fixed…

If we are going to meet the policy goals of ensuring broadband and ensuring competition and customer choice, entities are going to need to be able to attach, they’re going to need to be able to attach safely and they’re going to need to be able to attach in an expeditious manner.

Fellow commissioner Catherine Sandoval agreed, and made a pointed suggestion that perhaps it’s time for the CPUC to step in…

As somebody who’s also an anti-trust law professor, I’m really concerned about whether the rules are sufficiently pro competitive. We have a here a policy that we want to encourage competition and choice, and we expect the pole safety committees to respect and facilitate that…I would also urge the committees to also not force us to go down the enforcement route.

The commission broadened access to utility poles in the public right of way earlier this year, when it adopted uniform pricing and access rules for mobile phone companies. Since then, lobbyists for cable and independent telephone companies have asked for the same “nondiscriminatory access to public utility infrastructure”. Which would be fair, if cable and telephone companies were nondiscriminatory in the way they exercise the considerable privileges they already have.

Google’s wireless goal isn’t fiber replacement or magic radios

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No need to wait.

Google is asking the Federal Communications Commission for permission to run wireless transmission tests in and around the 3.5 GHz band, which has been designated for use under new Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) rules.

One reason for the request is sure to be Google’s increasing focus on wireless technologies as a substitute for or supplement to fiber. But Google has another, immediately practical interest at stake too: widespread use of CBRS spectrum requires real time frequency coordination amongst users, who have varying degrees of priority in that band. That’s a core database business that Google wants to win and, as described in its FCC filing, intends to develop during the planned tests…

A key component to sharing in this band is the Spectrum Access System (SAS), which utilizes database technology to protect important federal government uses of spectrum. These systems will ensure that neither priority access nor general authorized access users interfere with the existing government and private users who will continue to need 3.5 GHz spectrum in a limited number of areas. SAS database systems also will allow new users to share effectively with each other. Google has been a leader in using databases to free-up available spectrum, and it is one of the companies working to develop a sharing system for the 3.5 GHz band.

There’s been a lot of breathless excitement regarding Google’s wireless test plans, mostly the result of eternal hope that magic radios will appear one day and render wireline technology obsolete. That hope is stoked by AT&T, which wants permission to replace rural and inner city copper with wireless systems, and other mobile broadband companies that, naturally, want those customers too.

There aren’t many details in the heavily redacted filing and it offers no reason to think Google is on the verge of a radical breakthrough in fundamental physics or radio technology. There’s also nothing that says they aren’t, so we might as well have some fun speculating.

But Google has another, perfectly good business reason for running its wireless tests. Real time frequency coordination will open up new spectrum and increase the bandwidth that can be pushed through existing allocations, making it a potentially lucrative service that can be sold to wireless operators, and put Google at the center of wireless network management and the data streams that go along with it.

That’s reason enough.

Google, Facebook, Microsoft follow Ford’s vertical integration path

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Another big, transpacific fiber cable is now lit. Less than two years after it was announced, the FASTER consortium has completed construction of a link between Bandon, Oregon and two landing sites in Japan, with a further extension to Taiwan. The group’s membership includes Google as well as several Asian telecoms companies, including China Mobile International, China Telecom Global, Global Transit, KDDI and Singtel. NEC built it.

Google is taking one-sixth of the capacity, 10 terabits per second out of a total of 60 Tbps.

Ten terabits per second is a lot of bandwidth, but it’s consistent with Google’s current consumption. Companies with major web platforms are investing in transoceanic cables, as well as domestic middle fiber capacity, because their internal data transport needs are on the same scale as the big, common carrier telecoms players. Facebook, Microsoft and Telefonica are investors in the planned Marea cable between Spain and Virginia, which will have nearly three times the capacity of the FASTER link. Construction on that project is expected to begin in August.

The distinction between a web platform and a traditional telecoms company is becoming increasingly irrelevant – when you send a message via Gmail or respond to a Facebook post from the other side of the world, it’s transported primarily on internal networks.

It’s simple vertical integration. When a company’s needs scale up to a certain point, it makes economic sense to own a resource rather than buy it. It’s no different than car companies, like Ford, that jumped into the steel business a hundred years ago.

Google Fiber buys Webpass, jumps into CLEC infrastructure access fight

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Webpass was just acquired by Google Fiber. See this morning’s blog post about Webpass’ beef with AT&T at the California Public Utilities Commission for more info on what Webpass is up to.

It won’t have an immediate impact on the proceeding – lots of hoops to jump through first – but long term, it gives Google Fiber a big, new weapon in its fight to gain access to fundamental broadband infrastructure in California. There are also implications – positive – for its current fiber-to-the-apartment project in San Francisco.

Thank you to everyone who emailed/tweeted/poked me this morning. I didn’t see the press release yesterday. My excuse is that I’m working in a poorly served area of rural California this week, and this is the way it is for too many people. But we’re going to change that!

Google and Apple lag behind in self-driving car development, Musk says

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A head start matters.

Google won’t be making self-driving cars, but Apple probably will, although it’s coming late to the game. That’s how Elon Musk handicaps the autonomous vehicle sweepstakes. He’s in a better position to judge than most people. His company, Tesla, already has a semi-autonomous car on the market and is trying to break out of its Silicon Valley-centric niche and into the mainstream of mass market manufacturers.

Musk talked about the steep competitive slope new entrants into the automotive business have to climb at a recent conference. According to an article in TechCrunch, Musk believes Apple got started too late

“I think they should have embarked on this project sooner,” Musk said. “I don’t know… They don’t share with me the details. I don’t think they’ll be volume production sooner than 2020. It’s a missed opportunity. There’s a dozen car companies of significance in the world, the most any company has is approximately 10% market share.”

He brushed off the idea that Google will be building autonomous vehicles itself – “they’re not a car company”, he said – but it is building the market and mainstream automakers that partner up with them will be competitive.

In other words, Apple and Google aren’t changing their core strategies. Apple appears to be leading with hardware and hoping to build a closed ecosystem around it, just as it’s done with computers, phones and other devices. Google, on the other hand, seems focused on building a platform that mass market manufacturers will adopt.

It’s far fetched to think that Google and Apple could dominate the self-driving car universe. Musk certainly isn’t bullish on that idea, and there’s no denying incumbent automakers are still the safe bet. But then again, ten years ago iOS and Android were just development projects, and the smartphone smart money was on the likes of Nokia, RIM and Palm.

San Jose cuts a fiber deal but Google won’t say yes yet

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San Jose is all for it, but Google Fiber remains coy about whether it’s going to build a fiber to the home system there, or elsewhere in the south Bay Area. On Tuesday, the San Jose city council voted unanimously to approve a construction plan and five fiber hut site leases on city land, for a prospective Google Fiber buildout.

Jenna Wandres, the Google representative at the meeting, said that they plan to build out to virtually the city, with the only possible exceptions physically hard to reach locations in the hills. She said they plan to build 2,300 miles of fiber plant – more or less the total street mileage in San Jose – regardless of household income levels in neighborhoods. That’s not a ironclad guarantee, though. It leaves the door open a crack for Google to prioritise builds on the basis of pre-sales or other consumer demand metrics, as it has done in other markets.

Pricing is not set yet, but it’s likely to follow the pattern set in the southeastern U.S., according to Wandres. There, Google charges $130 a month for a gigabit plus TV service, $70 for a gig alone and $50 for 100 Mbps service. Wandres said that there will be a fourth price plan, at least for low income neighborhoods, but it hasn’t been determined yet.

The construction plan calls for 40% of the network to be installed on utility poles, and the remaining 60% will go underground, with both traditional trenching and microtrenching techniques used.

The City of San Jose is getting about $5,000 a year in lease payments for each of the fiber hut sites. That’s more than twice the rate Google is paying in San Antonio, for example.

The City of Mountain View approved similar plans earlier this month. Google has not yet said, though, whether it will actually implement any of the approved plans. Wandres said that if they do decide to move ahead in the south Bay Area, it would be Google’s first “organic build” in California. San Francisco is the first California city with a Google Fiber project, but it’s mostly using existing fiber lines and involves little or no new construction.

No word on when a decision is expected.

Google makes stupid move with smart home product

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If you bought a home automation hub from Revolv, sorry, it’s about to be bricked. Google bought Nest, which in turn bought Revolv, and then decided to turn off the servers that make its gizmos work

So we’re pouring all our energy into Works with Nest and are incredibly excited about what we’re making. Unfortunately, that means we can’t allocate resources to Revolv anymore and we have to shut down the service. As of May 15, 2016, your Revolv hub and app will no longer work.

Thank you for your support and believing in us.

Sucker.

Oops. I said that. They didn’t. Not exactly. But that thought probably passed through the mind of anyone who bought a Revolv hub. With justification.

From a high tech, living-in-dog-years point of view, there’s nothing wrong with what Google did. And yes, I know, Nest is owned by Alphabet, which is now the new name for the Company Formerly Known As Google. And from a high tech, living-in-dog-years point of view, there’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s just one problem.

Consumers don’t care. They give credit or blame to the brand they know, and don’t give a damn what the suits or the geeks say (full disclosure: I used to be both and I’m still a geek). They don’t obsess over light switches, doorbells or coffee pots. They just want the freaking things to work and leave them alone for ten or twenty years.

Shutting down the Revolv servers is a mistake, but by itself it won’t make much difference. If Google and other tech-driven companies keep pulling this same dumb move, though, consumers will shrug off their brands and, eventually, the whole home automation category.

Free advice to Google: don’t confuse a light switch with Orkut.

Something about broadband is a laughing matter

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The good stuff is no joke.

It was hard to tell which post on the Google Fiber blog yesterday was the April Fool’s joke, and which was the sober look at the world ahead. On the one hand, a Google engineer, Pál Takácsi, reflected on the need to boost broadband speeds by a billion times

While gigabit speeds are fast, we have come across an application where 1,000 Mbps is actually quite slow. Terribly slow. Research organizations that wish to remain anonymous have been working on an application that would enable the teleportation of a 160 pound person a distance of 60 miles in 1.2 seconds. This application requires a tremendous amount of bandwidth, because a 160-pound person represents a vast amount of data.

I believe it. It took a whole starship worth of memory to store Scotty in a pattern buffer for 100 years, before being rescued by that bald guy’s Enterprise. Try doing that on your DSL connection.

On the other hand, another post lavished praise on the FCC’s new broadband lifeline program

Yesterday, the FCC adopted its Lifeline modernization order, an essential move to encouraging broadband adoption nationwide. Until now, Lifeline has provided funds to enable providers to deliver voice service to consumers at affordable rates…For the first time, low-income consumers can apply the $9.25 Lifeline subsidy to lower the cost of qualifying broadband plans.

Except no one at Google should have seen the actual order, which is now reported to have grown to 200 pages, up from 150 earlier last month. The FCC put out a happy, happy, joy, joy press release, but so far has kept the details secret.

Let’s save the celebration until we’ve read the fine print. Lifeline subsidies for broadband service are a fine thing, but doing it poorly can do more harm than good. As a wise man once said, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.