Inside the Battle Over Google Fiber

When Google was planning to launch its Fiber broadband and TV service, Fiber executives had ambitious hopes of signing up around 5 million subscribers in five years, said a person close to Google's parent, Alphabet. But by the end of 2014, more than two years after service began, Google had only signed up around 200,000 broadband subscribers, said a former employee. The current number isn’t known, but it’s still well short of initial expectations, said another person close to Alphabet.

Now the company is rethinking its approach by shifting service to wireless, as has been widely reported. Wireless is a much cheaper way to offer broadband service than digging up streets to lay fiber cables in cities across America.

But that’s only part of the story. Last month, Alphabet CEO Larry Page ordered Google Fiber’s chief, Craig Barratt, to halve the size of the Google Fiber team to 500 people, said the second person close to Alphabet. (The Google Fiber unit is now known as Access.)

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Google Fiber is now focused on using wireless technologies developed in-house to bridge the last 100 yards between the fiber lines and utility poles to customers’ homes. In June, Google acquired Webpass, a company that develops high-speed wireless internet access technology.

—Jessica E. Lessin contributed to this article.

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Kevin Lee, Paul Anthony Webb and 2 others commented on this article.
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“The Fiber group is on a pretty tight leash and getting a lot of feedback that they should solve the problems with technology.”