Google Fiber Is Too Popular for Its Own Good
Faced with a six-month wait for a new Fiber installation, prospective customers in Kansas City are going to competitors.
Image: Jason Koebler
Google Fiber is lightning fast and it's reasonably priced, so it's understandable that people have gotten excited about an alternative to the Comcasts and AT&Ts of the world. In fact, it may be too popular for its own good: Google is losing potential customers in Kansas City, where some people would rather sign up for a competitor than wait as long as six months for a new Google Fiber hookup.
When Google originally came to the city in 2012, the company had a "now or never" policy for signups: Laying fiber often requires a small trench to be dug through a person's yard, a labor intensive process that's best done when you've got dozens of homes in a neighborhood to hook up. In March, Google reversed that policy, saying that those who recently moved to the city or missed the first deadline deserved the chance to sign up.
Last week, I took a trip to the Google Fiber information center in Kansas City, which processes new signups and serves as an internet cafe for local residents. An employee there who manages new customers told me that he couldn't tell me exactly how many customers had signed up in the city, but that "demand is so high we can't keep up."
He said that if you signed up for new service today, you likely wouldn't be able to access the network until near the end of the year. The company has set up a deposit system in which would-be customers pay ten bucks to save their spot in line, which eventually goes toward the first month's bill. But the employee told me that many new residents simply can't wait six months for internet access and instead opt for Comcast or AT&T. Others place deposits and then ask for their money back because the wait is too long.
A spokesperson at Google's headquarters confirmed the delays and said the company is working hard to fix them.
"Google Fiber is building an entirely new fiber network. That means we're installing thousands of miles of fiber optic cable throughout Kansas City, and that's a really big job," the spokesperson told me. "Once residents sign up for service, we work to complete installations as quickly as possible. However, construction work is often complex and unpredictable. Sometimes timelines become longer than anticipated due to circumstances outside of our control, such as weather."
The employee in Kansas City told me Google is hiring as many fiber installers as it can, and that contractors from all over the country have been hired to speed up the process.
Kansas City's government has received a handful of complaints about some of these contractors, who occasionally do things that internet infrastructure contractors do, like shoddily dig up yards, haphazardly drill holes in people's walls, and show up late or unannounced (this is pretty standard in the industry, and Google has been praised by local officials for how it's handled these complaints).
There are, of course, growing pains associated with any new infrastructure project, so it's not surprising that Google wasn't immediately equipped to deal with the influx of new customers.
By all accounts, the service is worth the wait—Fiber has very good reviews and was much faster than its competitors, until AT&T recently announced a competing gigabit service. For what it's worth, the internet I tested in the signup cafe was among the fastest I've ever used, but didn't clock in at gigabit speeds, according to a speed test I tried out there—I maxed out downloading at about 700 Mb/s. In any case, Google is planning to expand to Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Nashville, and Salt Lake City in coming years. If it's going to continue to be successful, it's going to need to figure out how to keep up with demand.