Launched in 2010 as an experiment to deliver faster Internet access, Google Fiber is putting expansion plans on hold and laying off employees in a number of U.S. cities. The news was announced yesterday in a blog post by Craig Barratt, who said he was also stepping aside as CEO of Access, the division in charge of Google Fiber.
The halt to the expansion will affect eight potential Google Fiber cities, including Dallas, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tampa. Citing "a person familiar with the situation," Bloomberg reported yesterday that about 9 percent of the division's employees -- about 130 people -- will also be let go.
Google's gigabit-speed Fiber service is currently available in Atlanta; Austin; Charlotte; Kansas City, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; Nashville; Provo, Utah; the Raleigh-Durham Triangle area in North Carolina; and Salt Lake City. Existing construction in Huntsville, Irvine, Louisville and San Antonio will also continue, according to Barratt.
Signs of Change
Yesterday's announcement was not a complete surprise, as there have been signs of a refocus at Access for the past several months. In August, The Information reported that Barratt had been told by Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet, Google's parent company, to cut the Fiber workforce in half, in part due to Fiber subscriber numbers that were much lower than expected.
Around that same time, Google also submitted a request to the Federal Communications Commission seeking permission to test an experimental wireless broadband service in up to 24 cities across the U.S. Since the Fiber project was launched, wireless technologies have advanced to the point where they can provide high-speed Internet access much less expensively than fiber.
Google Fiber's installation efforts have also encountered other obstacles. Earlier this year, for example, AT&T, which also offers a high-speed Internet service, took Louisville officials to court over an ordinance designed to speed up broadband deployment projects. AT&T's complaint said the city didn't have jurisdiction over the local utility poles where Google wanted to attach its Fiber equipment.
Latest 'Moonshot' Shakeup
Barratt noted in his blog post yesterday that the latest change to the Fiber rollout "enhances our focus on new technology and deployment methods to make superfast Internet more abundant than it is today." He added that Google remains confident it would resume its work with potential Fiber cities "once we've advanced our technologies and solutions."
Formerly president of Qualcomm Atheros, Barratt joined Google in 2013. Despite stepping down as Access CEO, Barratt said he would remain with Google as an advisor at Page's request.
As noted in a report today by Vanity Fair, Barratt is the third executive to depart this year from one of Google's "moonshot" projects involving innovative or experimental technologies. Other executives who have left their posts this year include Bill Maris of Google Ventures and Tony Fadell of Nest, the smart-thermostat company acquired by Google for $3.2 billion in 2014.