Welcome to the Fiberhood

Google’s ambitious Fiber experiment has been rolling along rather quietly since its announcement made some big waves in the tech media in the middle of 2012. Initially, the project got a mixed reception; equal parts excitement and skepticism. The company’s largest pilot test has been ongoing in certain suburban neighborhoods of Kansas City, and so far, some areas have up to 40% of their homes now participating.

Google is using social networking to give the pilot legs and draw new subscribers, a campaign that is tied in with continued efforts to get Google+, the company’s own social network off the ground. The installation costs of the new technology are steep, but the company is waiving the fees for many new customers and as part of select subscription packages. Regardless of what it takes in terms of conversions and costs, Google is trying its hardest to prove that it is serious about disrupting the current cable and internet market.

Fiber is innovative and severely disruptive in more than a few ways; the service includes internet speeds of up to one gigabit (which is as much as 100 times faster than what most Americans currently have), and is available for free. Read it again, free. Fiber also carries a full TV channel lineup including Google’s own roster of 150 online channels on Youtube. Not only is the cost lower, encouraging some serious debate over the pricing of major competitors like Comcast and Verizon, but Google is also on the verge of a potential huge shift in the TV model by becoming a content creator, while controlling all the advertising that accompanies programming.

The most immediate implications for the Kansas City experiment may just be Google using a complete local ecosystem to observe more accurately how broadband subscribers interact with the Internet and television. Learning to predict user behavior, preferences, and wants is a powerful proposition for a company in Google’s position.

Many doubt the likelihood that Fiber will make a lasting impact on the market, but we are quick to forget that Google went from zero presence in the mobile phone market to Android phones owning  a 64.1 percent share of all phones sold in just four years. It is hard to undersell Google’s willingness to take new markets on headfirst. We could be witnessing the start of the next major change in broadband and media consumption, and Kansas City is the proving ground.

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