Back in 2007, when Google was suddenly interested in the 700 MHz auction and everyone was speculating whether or not Google planned to enter the wireless business (and if so how badly it would fail), I wrote this piece about Google’s behavior.
“Unless you own a cat, or have a bizarre interest in parasite-induced behavioral changes, odds are good you never heard of a critter called toxoplasma gondii (or “T. Gondii” to its friends). This little protozoa lives a complex lifestyle. In its immature phase, it can live in any mammal. But to reach the mature stage and reproduce, it must get into a cat. It does this by the expedient of reversing the usual aversion mice have to cats. A mouse infected by T. Gondii will find the odor of cat a powerful attraction and, on spotting a cat, will rush out to challenge the cat instead of hiding. As a result, the cat eats the mouse and the T. Gondii gets on with its reproductive business.
“I find myself regarding this as a very apt analogy for Google and its interest in wireless. Google has no real interest in becoming a network provider. Sure, it has dabbled a bit in broadband over power lines (BPL) and muniwireless, but nothing major. But this summer, Google got told in no uncertain terms that if it wanted access to the wireless world, the only way to get it was to win licenses and set up its own network.
“Google, of course, still doesn’t want to have to build a network. So it has adopted the strategy of our friend T. Gondii. Modify the behavior of someone else to make your life easier. I don’t regard this as “bad” or “freeloading” or “evil” anymore than I regard T. Gondii as evil. A protozoa (or a profit maximizing firm) has to do what a protozoa (or profit maximizing firm) has to do.”
And didn’t Google do just that? Without owning a network, Google is now happily embedded within the mobile world. And all the mobile companies, that swore in 2007 they would fight to the death to keep their platforms closed and that disruptive Google out, out OUT! plan a good portion of their lifecycle around Google’s Android operating system and Google mobile applications. Even its arch-rival Apple discovered it couldn’t displace Google Maps and get Google entirely off the platform.
Some years back, when Google announced their plans for a fiber network, I predicted that Google had similar intentions. Google did not intend to become a major network operator, if it could help it. But it needed to do something to get the landline mice, particularly cable, to start servicing us consumer cats better so that T. GOOG could get into our guts and alter our behavior better. Three years later, with recent announcements of Google expanding to Austin and Provo, I think it’s time to check in on how our favorite behavior-altering parasite is doing.
More below . . . .
Allow me to state clearly, I’m not making any value judgments in this analysis. If you are a cat, you love T. Gondii just fine. It brings you dinner, and the fact that it is also using you for its own purposes is rather beside the point since all T. Gondii wants in exchange is a love shack in the cat’s digestive system and then a free ride out of town on the Litter Express. From the cat’s perspective, that is certainly worth a free mousie — if it even noticed. On the other hand, because we are sometimes the mouse as well as the cat, it bears some thinking about.
What Does Google Want From Us? The Life Cycle and Needs of T. GOOG.
Every time Google starts to look at a new business, such as wireless, or television, or broadband fiber networks, analysts shake their heads and babble on endlessly about how said new business is so totally different from what Google does and lacks basic symmetries so Google is bound to fail. This is because the analysts in question are looking at the MVPD business, or the wireless business, or the application business through the model of a traditional company. These analysts imagine that Google wants to be the next Comcast, or the next Verizon Wireless, or the next Samsung. And, looking at how hard it is to break into the respective industry, they predict Google will lack the ability to wipe out the incumbents, who will fight back with every competition repressing mechanism they have.
Analysts do not understand T. GOOG and how it works. Buying YouTube did not make Google into a media company, even though it now derives much revenue from its “sort of” media business. Developing an operating system and Word Processing aps did not make Google into Microsoft. Google has not become Verizon Wireless or even Apple or Samsung, despite having its operating system and applications populating the mobile world. At its core, Google remained T. Goog, the happy protozoa that views information as food to be processed and transformed so T. GOOG can fulfill its biological/profit-maximizing destiny and continue to grow as big and plentifully as its food supply and biosphere can sustain it.
All these things, YouTube, Gmail, Google Docs, Chrome, are T. Goog vectors. Every time I use one of these applications, I am feeding T. Goog what it needs for it to grow and thrive. I am giving it information it can process in lots of ways for various profitable purposes. And GOOG, like any good symbiote, alters my behavior so that its vectors are attractive to me and meet my needs. Certainly YouTube is a profitable enterprise in its own right, but its value to GOOG far surpasses its value as a traditional “media platform.” So Google tends YouTube as an ant tends an aphid farm, stroking and milking the happy aphids (us, independent artists). When nasty predator media companies came to shut YouTube down, Google engaged in a complex behavior to alter everyone else’s behavior — gradually accustoming YouTube users to stricter copyright controls, introducing new revenue opportunities for the big studios — to a point where even the studios that once avidly sought YouTube’s destruction as a potentially disruptive force that “deprived rights holders of the value of their copyrights” now embraces YouTube (albeit somewhat grudgingly), as a distribution platform and junior farm league.
No, it’s not a perfect relationship, and the MPAA immune system can still give T. GOOG a rash (and T. GOOG can still give MPAA a nasty fever and the runs), but T. GOOG is very adaptable, and very good at getting other members of the ecosystem to adapt their behavior to T. Goog‘s needs.
That’s Awful! Google Is Just Some Parasite Using Us!
Well, it depends on your p.o.v., I guess. Unlike the real Toxoplasma Gondii, T. GOOG does not actually creep into your body and alter your brain chemistry to force you to do what it wants. Google gets users (and every one else) to alter their behavior to suit Google’s needs by making it easier and more rewarding to feed T. Goog than to fight it. For consumers, this usually works out pretty well if you don’t worry about privacy or stuff like that. Unlike, say, the wireless industry 9or the broadband industry), where every single incentive is anticonsumer (i.e., the road to profitability involves making the service more restricted and limited, not less restricted and easier to use), Google’s incentive is to make my life so much easier and more fun with all things Google that I am constantly feeding it the information and advertising opportunities it lives on.
Put another way, am I a slave to the E. Coli I carry around in my gut? Are they slaves to me? Does the idea of master/slave in that relationship even apply? Because I rely on E. Coli to help me digest food, my dietary intake is to some degree limited and controlled by E. Coli‘s preferences. It has successfully, over millennia, altered my fundamental biology and behavior. And vice versa, because E. Coli has adapted to my behavior.
Google is a profit-maximizing firm. They are no more or less evil than any other profit maximizing firm. Their strategy provides me with a lot of benefits, but that doesn’t make them my friend. E. Coli can kill you if it gets out of your gut and infects you elsewhere. Google’s happy, friendly information sharing behavior can do all kinds of bad if it gets out of hand, and it’s happy prolific nature makes it very good at shutting out potential competitors. Like many things people deal with in nature, T. Goog can be very useful when domesticated, but can turn on you if you aren’t careful.
How Poetic. If You Are Done With the Whole “Circle of Life” Thing Could We Get Back to Google Fiber?
Google loves us the way T. Gondiii loves cats. We provide it with yummy information (which it uses as food) and gets us to invent all new content and services that incorporate it (generating more information for it to digest and sell, as well as new revenue generating activities). Google itself remains remarkably unchanged at its core for all its far flung pseudo-pods extending ever deeper into our lives.
T. GOOGs chief concern at this point is that it needs open vectors. It needs always on broadband connectivity. It needs that connectivity to be available to us on a constant basis so that we can keep playing with all the GOOG pseudopods and keep generating the information and advertising opportunities. It needs carriers in both the traditional epidemiological sense and the telecommunications sense.
Google arose on an open platform — desktops using dial up broadband — and works best on an open platform. That is why Google is evolved to be fun and attractive from the user host experience. Goog has its relationship with me, the customer, directly. Those cute interfaces, the customized search results, my Youtube likes and dislikes, etc., etc.
The more closed the platform, the more inimical to Google. Google needs open platforms to survive and thrive. It can adapt to less open platforms, just as many organisms adapt to less preferred environments. But it would rather not. Google wants to be cozy and snug on our every platform, happily there for our every convenience, confident that our learned behaviors and its overall superior way of servicing us will keep us using it repeatedly.
When smart phones started to come along, Google ran into its first really closed environment with a dominant vector — the mobile world. Google needed to change that. From T. GOOG’s perspective, mobile carriers were mice and consumers were cats. Since T. GOOG needed to get inside the cat, it had to figure out how to embed itself inside the mobile carrier mouse, despite the mobile carrier’s well-developed immune system.
T. Goog And the Mobile Mice.
Google’s manner of altering the mobile world, and how it makes money from the mobile world, made zero sense to analysts — all of whom predicted failure for Google. Why? Because analysts have limited vision. They assumed Google wanted to be Verizon Wireless, or AT&T. Looking at the barriers to entry to becoming a mobile carrier that could even compete with incumbents, Wall St. analysts concluded that entry was impossible, or at least ultimately expensively unprofitable, and that therefore Google would fail. (In accordance with long established custom, Washington regulators, on exactly the same data, concluded the exact opposite — there were no barriers to entry and therefore no need to take steps to promote competition. But I digress.)
Google had absolutely no desire to become a wireless network anymore than T. Gondi wants to become a mouse. It wanted a strong, happy successful wireless carrier that would act as a willing vector for T. Goog. With the actual Toxoplasma Gondi and mice, the invading protozoa alters the mouse’s brain chemistry to flip its incentives. Instead of interpreting the smell of cat as “danger! Run away!” a mouse infected with t. gondi interprets the smell of cat as “yummie good stuff! Come quickly!” When it sees a cat, the normal mouse brain goes “pattern recognition — cat! EEEEKKK!!! RUN!! HIDE!!!” T. Gondi flips this in the infected mousie to “pattern recognition — pussy. I can totally take this guy.” So rather than run away, the T. Gondi infected mouse runs right up to the cat, which happily gulps it down for dinner, thus taking T. Gondi to the cat gut where it will do it’s happy spawning thing.
T. Google also needed to reverse Verizon’s corporate brain chemistry. It did this by a combination of carrot and stick. It offered Verizon (and other carriers) an alternative to AT&T’s highly successful exclusive deal with iPhone, but only if the carriers would accept levels of openness on the platform that the carrier had previously deemed unacceptable. Google also created a credible threat that it would launch its own wireless network if that were the only way to get an open wireless platform — including putting up $6 billion to acquire the necessary licenses. Google also made clear that, even if VZ resisted, GOOG could find sufficient smaller carriers interested in partnering with it to give Verizon a run for its money. Finally, regulators began to press Verizon and other wireless carriers to make some concessions to wireless — a situation Google did not create (popular thinking to the contrary, *sigh*) but happily contributed to and exploited.
And sure enough, the mobile carrier mice reversed their brain chemistry and became happy, willing vectors for T. GOOG. Goog’s operating system is everywhere in the mobile universe. Even non-Android phones are loaded with Google aps and folks spend endless time on their mobile devices visiting Google websites like YouTube, reading their Google Mail, and otherwise servicing T. GOOG in its exciting new mobile environment. And the carriers, with their attitudes adjusted, if not entirely happy with their T. GOOG infestation, are no longer trying to fit it tooth-and-nail. Heck, T. GOOG conveyed to them all kinds of advantages. They benefited by being T. GOOG carriers, consumers got more of the T. GOOG they love, and T. GOOG is now being delivered by mobile mouse vectors direct into the gullets of consumer kittehs. Or is it we who are the mice and the carriers who are the cats?
Problem? This Sounds Like A Win For Everyone.
Well, not quite. Because GOOG also adapted to the carriers. GOOG would have preferred a totally open platform, which we don’t have. But T. GOOG does well enough in the current mobile environment. It can even adapt to quasi-open environments to take advantage of the closed features. Besides, GOOG reached a point where it felt it was getting excellent carrier service to its hosts, and that trying to alter the carrier to make it more open would take much more energy than the potential reward. So GOOG stopped fighting for full openness and reached an accommodation with the carriers.
And GOOG, in turn, helped shape and alter the expectations of the users. By making the Android so super cool for folks, and its aps so useful, people rely on them all the time. they don’t mind that the system is somewhat more closed than the one they have on their home broadband connection. Why should they? They will never miss the cool stuff or competitors that never emerged because we settled for quasi-open rather than actually open.
Which brings home a rather important point for those of you still paying attention in class. Google is not the answer to public policy. I don’t pretend for one minute we “won” the fight to open the wireless handset. Sure, I’m glad T. GOOG forced the wireless world to shift to a more user friendly policy. But we didn’t get the actual policy we needed. Google got what it wanted, then stopped. Which is why public policy needs to rely on actual real citizen people and not some naive belief that profit maximizing firms are anything other than profit maximizing firms. I am always happy to have GOOG on my side in a policy fight, and because their profit maximizing strategy generally corresponds with maximizing a free and open Internet, we are on the same side a lot.
But not always, and the distinctions are important.
So How Does Google Fiber Fit Into This?
Which brings us to T. Googlii and the landline companies. Again, as I’ve argued before, Google doesn’t actually *want* to run a broadband network anymore than they wanted to become a mobile carrier. But the wireline providers are very stubborn, even more so than the wireless companies. How does T. GOOG force wireline providers to give consumers what they want, the way T. Gondii forces mice to give cats what they want, so that T. GOOG can more efficiently be delivered by the cable/ILEC mice into the consumer tummy so T. Googlii can go about its business?
Well, first it helps to know what Google wants on the wireline side. Answer: speed and capacity. For T. Goog to continue its exponential growth, it needs its carrier delivery system to grow to accommodate more and more information. Remember, Google is not a company that makes its primary money producing physical goods or providing a limited set of services like transporting bits or moving freight. Google is about “organizing the worlds information.” People dicking around at higher speeds with more stuff online produces more Google food and Google growth.
The problem from Google’s perspective is that Susan Crawford appears to be right after all. After a brief struggle and spurt of growth between cable providers and telcos for residential broadband, the incumbent cable operators appear to have won. As a result, even though they (and FIOS) could roll out much faster speeds using DOCSIS 3.0 and FIOS, they don’t. In fact, both major cable operator TWC and Verizon have explained that they don’t think consumers want (or need) 1 Gig to the home connectivity. So rather than offer an amazing jump up in speed, the cable providers and VZ are ramping up speed very gradually, so as to maximize the profit from each step up. Every year, the “top tier” speed you can buy gets a little higher, justifying your 5% rate increase (you know, like the way adding 5 more channels you don’t watch to your video bundle used to justify raising your cable rate 5% a year). So that we very slowly and gradually getting more speed, but in a way that maximizes the return for the wireline oligopoly providers.
For T. GOOG, this stagnation of our broadband infrastructure is TOTALLY NOT ACCEPTABLE. T. GOOG is rapidly coming to the end of the expansionary limits of current crappy wireline carrier speed. T. GOOG needs its carriers to become better vectors by raising their speed. Also, if the carriers don’t stop raising their prices, lots of consumer kittehs will not be able to afford to access Google services everywhere anytime. How sad! Sad for consumer kittehs, because the wireline carrier mice are not meeting consumer kitteh need; sad for T. GOOG, which just wants to make consumer kittehs happy so T. GOOG can continue to grow exponentially.
Unfortunately for T. GOOG, wireline carriers, particularly cable providers, have evolved much stronger immune systems than mobile carriers. This is partly the selective breeding of the last 20 years has produced some powerful, mean monopoly mother#@$! It is also partly because the surviving cable and surviving telco guys acquired immunity from when T. GOOG first appeared on the scene in the totally open platform days. Add to that the fact that the total mind-control cable and ILECs exercise over the FCC, Congress, and state governments makes Google’s mind control efforts look utterly pathetic.
As a result, cable’s immune system completely rejected T. GOOG’s first effort to modify the wireline carrier eco-system through Google TV. How, then to create the circumstances under which cable and telcos will modify their behavior to better accommodate T. GOOG?
Enter Google Fiber?
Exactly. Google Fiber mirrors to some degree the same tactics Google used to get the wireless carriers to modify their behavior, but somewhat differently. (And it still inspires either Google worship/fear that Google will take over the world or arrogant dismissal by analysts who view Google through carrier lenses as a carrier wannabe.) Take a look at this piece I wrote back in February 2010 when Google announced the whole Google Fiber thing in the first place. Nothing in the last 3 years causes me to change my basic analysis, but it is now possible to fill in a few gaps.
A. Credible threat. First of all, Google’s guy in charge of Google Fiber is Milo Medin. Cable operators understand that Milo is a highly competent and experienced guy who understands network construction and design because Medin used to work for them. Medin developed ad ran @Home, which was the short-lived joint venture for cable operators offering broadband before the cable MSOs said “screw this, we can just offer it ourselves directly with the cable service.” Medin likes building networks, knows how to build ’em, and is rich enough that he would not bother to take the job if it were just a bullshit position.
Expanding the Kansas City project well beyond its initial base, and then expanding to two new cities, enhances the credibility of the threat. Not only did Google Fiber not fall flat on its face, as carriers hoped and some analysts predicted, it turned out to be so successful that Google promptly replicated it twice.
If FIOS’ failure to capture significant market share from cable in its territory proved to carriers and analysts that Americans did not want or need Fiber-To-the-Home, Google Fiber definitely proved that either (a) times had changed, (b) Verizon totally screwed up how it marketed FIOS, or (c) both. Verizon marketed and sold FIOS as a premium product with capacities somewhat better than, but not vastly superior to, cable broadband. Google marketed its product as something utterly world-changing and different. If Verizon marketed and sold FIOS like a top of the line Ferrari as compared to Comcast’s luxury sedan, Google marketed Google Fiber as the difference between its product an existing cable broadband as being like the difference between a Harley Davidson and a Big Wheel — but priced cheaper than a Big Wheel.
Finally, all of this turns out to be cheaper to do than anticipated. So Google could easily just pop up anywhere and say “hey, major provider monopoly dude! We are here to make you look like total greedy dorkheads. Don’t be evil, dude. Later!”
B. Lots of Data Accumulating of How Pumps Up Your City. Another problem for incumbents/plus for Google is that it has become clear in a very short time how much having gigabit fiber pumps up your city. And it’s not just Google. Chattanooga and other cities that have built themselves gigabit networks are starting to reap major rewards as well — albeit not nearly as dramatically or with as much adoring press as accompanies the triumphal roll out of anything by our Great Google Overlords (believe me, I feel your pain Chattanooga).
Add to this how Google has turned the roll out and deployment into a giant “in your face” to FIOS and others who keep saying that nobody either wants or needs a gig to the home. The coming of a gigabit fiber to the home in Kansas City was greeted with the kind of enthusiasm and civic pride usually reserved for bids to become an Olympic host city. Then Austin reciprocated, followed swiftly by Provo.
All of this changes the political environment by making cities far less patient with the premium crap broadband they have now. Not that I expect them to actually regulate, but it makes it much more likely those that haven’t been blocked by their own statehouses will want to do it themselves. Arguments that incumbents have used in the past to ward off local competition are going to ring increasingly hollow to mayors and even captive state legislators who want to know why Kansas City has a Gig to the home, Provo has 5 mbps free to everyone, but my home town has a bucketful of excuses and $50/month for 5/1?
C. Using Cable Dereg Arguments Against Them. When Google Fiber announced the Austin deal, AT&T promptly responded that it, too would bring Gigabit fiber to Austin if it could get the same “special considerations” that Google got — the idea being that while poor AT&T actually has to labor under all these nasty bad bad regulations Google can do its fiber thing because it gets special deals that are unfair. *whine* The fact that the investor disclosure part of the release indicated that AT&T did not anticipate any increase in spending as a result of this offer demonstrates that AT&T did not really expect to get called on this bluff.
However, the joke is on AT&T, which has amazingly bad institutional memory. As the representatives of the City of Austin explained, state law prohibits any locality from offering a deal to one provider that it does not offer to all other providers. And besides, Texas eliminated local franchising entirely in 2006. The reason I say this is bad institutional memory on the part of AT&T is that AT&T, along with Verizon and the cable incumbents in TX, were the ones who lobbied the TX legislature in 2006 to put the aforesaid law in place. It’s not just that it was illegal for Austin to offer Google a special deal, AT&T was one of the ones who *made it* illegal for Austin to offer Google a special deal.
But even more ironically, AT&T and other supporters of eliminating local franchise authority has justified it on the grounds that, absent such “smothering local regulation,” new entrants would deploy exciting new services like fiber-to-the-home. Yet in the 7 years since the TX legislature passed its franchise dereg bill, AT&t has not felt the urge to deploy a gigabit network. until T.GOOG showed up. In the game of Texas Broadband Hold Em, GOOG has now called AT&T’s bluff.
Similarly, one element of the decision to bring T.GOOG to Provo, UT is because there is a municipal fiber network already in place, which Google will purchase. But CenturyLink and the other incumbent local competitors succeeded in getting the state legislature to pass laws hamstringing muni broadband networks, arguing that government should not “unfairly compete” against local companies (that don’t want to invest in their own fiber plant). So now, instead of a municipal network concerned with providing the basics to the community, Centurylink and others face an actual real live competitor that will show them up the existing broadband service as overpriced and outrageously slow.
It’s cosmic justice to see the incumbents now hoist by their own anti-competitive dergulatory petards. It will on the one hand increase reluctance of incumbents to push for such bills (since Google may take them up on the dereg), and it spurs those legislators who voted for eliminating local franchising to wonder “why the heck haven’t we seen any of the promised benefits of deregulation?”
Is Any of this GOOG Fiber Really Going To Impact Wireline? Or has T. Goog Met Its Match?
Obviously, we have to see what happens over time. The current rather pathetic and confused reactions by local providers in Google Fiber Communities resembles very much the first three stages of corporate grief: denial (nobody wants a Gig, and they are sure to fail when they see how hard it is to be a carrier), anger (I can’t believe they did it! They must have got a special deal from somewhere!), and false bargaining (uh, sure we can do a gig, we just need more goodies and concessions). We’ll see how long it takes to get to acceptance.
It is worth noting that, unlike every ILEC but Verizon, the larger Cable ops have a history of actually bestirring themselves to crush competitive threats through investment in new services and not just via market power and asymetric regulation by captured agencies and state houses. This is one of the reasons why cable ultimately ate the ILEC’s lunch on the broadband front.
Specifically, when it became clear in 1997 that DBS was going to be a real competitor, the cable ops actually invested in their systems to expand channel capacity and to offer broadband (a service DBS could not match). When FIOS started happening, cable ops hit the accelerator on DOCSIS 3.0 so the cable ops in the FIOS footprint could offer competitive speed. When licensed wireless didn’t work as a wireless strategy, the cable operators went into WiFi in a big way. Like any other profit maximizing firm, cable ops hate spending money on network investment and prefer to charge monopoly prices. But if pushed to it, they actually can upgrade their systems and price competitively.
Also, cable ops to do not have to match 1 gig speed or the same low price as Google Fiber to keep most of their customers. As I have written at length elsewhere, cable operators understand the power of lock in. They understand that they need to respond to real competition that cannot otherwise be crushed just enough so that you no longer feel it is worth the hassle of switching. Right now, Google Fiber is so much faster and cheaper overall that it is clearly worth it to jump ship. Cable and FIOS do not need to get up to a full Gig to the home to keep customers, or drop their prices fully to match GOOG Fiber. But they do need to seriously boost speed to something with 3 digits and drop the price to something merely obscene.
Happily, most of the major cable systems and FIOS are in a position to do this fairly easily. Their physical plant has the capacity to offer speeds of over 100 mbps easily. They generally don’t because there isn’t a clear reason to do it now. As I noted earlier, the strategy is roll out the speed slowly to extract maximum profit. But the virtue of competition (or even a credible threat of competition) is you actually sacrifice some of the profit margin you could be making to attract and keep customers (this is why competition is good and why the price in a competitive market is supposed to be lower than in a non-competitive market).
The question is, how much does GOOG Fiber need to be a real competitive threat, combined with more proof of customer demand and overall changing political climate to insist on fiber-like speed, to make the incumbents step up their game? After all, T. GOOG can’t afford to build out everywhere. But happily for T. GOOG, it doesn’t need Google Fiber everywhere to make cable react. It just needs to form a credible threat. If the cable industry view Google Fiber (or muni-fiber systems) like some form of horrible disease that could flare up anywhere at any time, infecting their market with cheap 1 gig connectivity, then the cable ops (and probably Verizon FIOS, and possibly even AT&T, eventually) will try to immunize themselves by boosting their speed and lowering their prices to something close enough to Google Fiber to discourage Google (or a muni-fiber system) from deploying in its community of service.
Which is, of course, exactly what T. GOOG wants. If that is what happens, it will have successfully modified the wireline provider behavior to make them a much better carrier for T. GOOG to us the consumer. Even if broadband speeds simply jump from the current drechy average to 100 mbps symmetric, users will enjoy a whole new form of online experience — most of it either directly or indirectly involving Google in its handy, happy consumer-friendly information-gathering-and-organizing self.
So Problem Solved for US Broadband, Right?
Umm . . . no. Because while T. GOOG is turning out to be a highly efficient and effective organism for T. GOOG, it doesn’t solve all our problems. For example, Google Fiber in Kansas simply bypassed poorer neighborhoods with lower take rates. Those guys have fallen off the cliff of the digital divide (although Google says it will get back to them eventually). Whether we at some point go back and make Google serve those communities, or find some other method to bring the same level of broadband connectivity to those neighborhoods, that is a problem we need to solve. We are not going to remain one country, with a viable future of as one country, if we are going to make your ability to fully access even basic education or healthcare of the future a question of whether you happen to live on the right block. Anyone who thinks we have massive inequality problems in our society now should hold on and wait for the massive digital inequality where most of the population has 1 gig broadband and others don’t even come vaguely close.
And this is just one problem. Others will present themselves as we move on this digital transition. As I say constantly (and will continue to repeat myself endlessly), you can’t outsource citizenship. You can’t privatize public responsibility. We either take charge of our future and actually decide on how public policy ought to work, or we give up any notion we are anything other than a herd of sheep hoping for a nice corporate shepherd who will take care of us on the way to the shearing grounds rather than some asshole who will abuse us on the way to the abattoirs.
So I’m glad to see T. Goog in action, but I don’t kid myself that T. Goog is doing it for my benefit anymore than the real Toxoplasma Gondii feeds mice to cats because it loves teh kittehs. I like being a citizen and ultimately governing myself. It’s a pain in the ass sometime, but it beats being a product for someone else.
Stay tuned . . . .
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It’s the little things that keep ecosystems alive.
What Google did in the upper layers with centralized procurement and sponsorship, “one to many, many to one”, is the metcalfian approach to free or very cheap access.
As an aside, we don’t need regulators ensuring universal service. All they need to do is ensure equal access to infrastructure that is on public ROWs or frequencies; and secondly that monopoly bottlenecks do not exist in middle or upper layers.
Google then translated its upper layer success the middle layers with Droid and is now doing something similar in the lower layers.
But we can’t lose sight that in this information economy begun 180 years ago, we only began the competitive reformation 30 years ago after entering the dark ages in 1913. The counter-reformation begun 15 years ago appears to have subdued the reformists, except that the latter begat the internet and digital wireless.
Google, Apple and MSFT are all birds of a feather; successful in one fashion or another with a “horizontal” approach over the past 30 years. Horizontal scaling is the essence of digital and data networks. Vertical integration may work in the short term, but ultimately it is unsustainable given rapid technological (supply) changes and growing and bifurcating demand. This is the real war being waged.
So we give a lot of credit to Google for things that were already afoot and for natural forces which continue unabated (like moore’s, metcalfe’s and zipf’s laws). For instance give credit more to Apple for opening the backdoor to development of application ecosystems that had “equal access” to the cloud via the iPhone; a process it had begun with other “information monopolies” in the early 2000s.
Google’s strategy over all is fascinating. I see it as the Droid hammer smashing on the fiber anvil with the vertically integrated carrier model in between. The real key from a business model perspective is that Google in each manifestation has not only figured out the winning business model from a pricing perspective, but arrived there because it could drive marginal costs down at every layer and boundary point a priori. Google lives in a world of billions and trillions of transactions/sessions, so lowering marginal cost continuously is paramount. For instance, just look at the optic switches they are developing for their data centers that will transform the world of transport and access networks over the next decade.
This is where our entire public policy, academic, trade and capital market stakeholders fail in their understanding of what is truly going on. It’s all about marginal cost. The fact is that we’ve witnessed this model 3 times previously in the competitive WAN (IXCs) of the 1980-90s, the competitive data markets (IP, FR/ATM) of the 1990s, and lastly competitive, digital wireless in the mid-to-late 1990s.
We rode the equal access horse into all those battles and won. While the monopolists managed to nearly kill the horse since the late 1990s, it’s not dead. Who will be the champion to ride the horse again? Google, Apple, Microsoft? Or will one of the incumbents actually realize they are doomed (as IBM did in the early 1990s) and fundamentally change its business model and try to ride the horse to a horizontal world? (Sorry, had to come up with my own metaphor to give yours’ a run for the money)