Nothing like a little competition to ratchet the broadband envy up a few notches.
It's not enough that Austin, TX, is getting Google Fiber — which alone is turning geeks everywhere green with jealousy (except perhaps Kansas City and Provo) — but soon they'll also be courted by nervous broadband competitors hoping to beat back a mass exodus from their services.
Word has it that AT&T is interested in offering its own gigabit fiber network in Austin, so it's appealing to state and city officials for the same deals they gave Google. Meanwhile, over at Time Warner Cable, the company hopes that offering free citywide Wi-Fi to subscribers will generate some good will.
Now that's a 180-degree reversal. Back in February, TWC's Chief Financial Officer Irene Esteves said that, apart from business customers, subscribers aren't really interested in gigabit speeds like those offered by Google. What a difference a couple of months makes. Not that the company is planning to jump on the gigabit fiber bandwagon yet, but at least it does seem to acknowledge that a threat is looming. TWC has been toying with the idea of free Wi-Fi for subscribers for a while, and has even launched it in a few places around the city. People just use their existing TWC logins for access, and it would likewise work the same way in a wider Austin roll-out. (The service is also available to non-subscribers for a $2.95 per hour charge.) Customers also get access to partner networks in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, DC, among others.
But is free Wi-Fi going to be enough to plug the epic subscriber leak that will probably happen when Google Fiber lands? That's doubtful. There are TWC customers who still remember when the provider threatened broadband caps in 2009. So yeah, good luck with that, Time Warner.
Not all the ISPs are freaking out, however. Comcast, which is infamous for being slow to respond to market influences, is predictably mum on the topic, as is Verizon. Then again, maybe the latter just doesn't care about fiber anymore. After all, the company's absolutely massive in the cellular market, and it even announced last year that it would no longer expand its FIOS network anyway.
But other competitors clearly do care, and they're obviously rattled about Google. That's a great thing for Austin residents, because it proves the notion that competition is good for consumers. Hopefully, the rest of us will get to experience that firsthand too.