Google Fiber goes boringly conventional in Seattle

by Steve Blum • , ,

At first it tried to disrupt the broadband industry in the U.S. with full scale fiber to the home deployments, but the financial realities of a capital intensive business with a long term return on investment horizon has forced Google Fiber into a traditional small ISP business model. Its latest move – into a high rent Seattle high rise – is a low risk venture. According to a blog post by its Webpass subsidiary

Today, we announced that Webpass is ready to move into the Emerald City, one Ethernet-wired building at a time.

Webpass provides blazing-fast Internet (up to a gigabit per second!) to residential and business customers, starting with Fifteen Twenty-One Second Avenue, a 40-story luxury tower located above Pike Place Market. We expect to add many more buildings throughout the city, and, starting today, residents of other apartment and condo buildings can reach out to express interest in bringing Webpass to their home.

The only news here is that Google is involved – downtown Seattle already has a thriving market multi-dwelling unit (MDU) gigabit service.

Two questions that the brief announcement doesn’t answer are how is it getting enough bandwidth into the building and what is the business arrangement with the landlord?

Media reports about the Seattle initiative assume that, consistent with Webpass’ market positioning (but not its invariable practice), the building will be fed wirelessly. That seems unlikely: reliably delivering a gigabit (for $60 per month) to dozens of units in a dense urban environment via a radio link is difficult, while leasing dark fiber from the City of Seattle or other providers is easy. I don’t know how they’re doing it, but I’m not making any assumptions either.

Typically, MDU deals between Internet service providers and landlords involve some level of exclusivity, often based on access to the Ethernet or other wiring inside. It’s becoming a controversial practice. The Federal Communications Commission is about to look into it, and Webpass was on the other side of it in San Francisco. It would ironic if Google’s broadband business model goes from being the disrupter to being disrupted.