Google Fiber's biggest rival may be AT&T Fiber, with jabs and lawsuits defining their history together.
"We'll be watching your next move from our rear view mirror," AT&T's executive vice president of regulatory and state external affairs Joan Marsh said in a September 2016 blog post. "Oh, and pardon our dust."
In Google Fiber's comeback year in 2017, it launched fiber in three cities, including Louisville, KY. But Google Fiber's official launch in Louisville in October 2017 came more than two years after the city was announced as a potential Fiber city in September 2015. In that waiting period, the ongoing battle between AT&T Fiber and Google Fiber turned into a lawsuit.
The Louisville Metro Council passed the One Touch Make Ready ordinance in February 2016 in an attempt to make it easier for Google Fiber to come to Louisville. The ordinance allowed Google Fiber to use existing poles, which mainly belong to incumbent ISP Spectrum (then Time Warner) and AT&T.
Soon after, AT&T sued the Louisville Metro Council over the ordinance, arguing that the city has no jurisdiction over telephone poles. Charter Communications, the parent company of then Time Warner, joined the suit in October 2016. A few weeks later, Google Fiber paused operations in a company-wide halt.
Over a year later, with the lawsuit dismissed, both fiber providers are active in Louisville. But, how do they compare?
Price-wise, the companies are similar. AT&T Internet 1000 costs $70 a month when bundled with other AT&T services or $80 standalone. Google Fiber has two internet options: Fiber 100 for $50 a month and Fiber 1000 for $70 a month.
Availability, though, is a different story. AT&T Fiber is available in at least 40 Louisville neighborhoods compared to Google Fiber's three.
To look past the company-provided statistics, we turned to Louisville residents to get an idea of who was winning the fiber internet battle in Louisville.
From November 2017 to February 2018, TechRepublic conducted an online survey of Louisville residents about their knowledge of local fiber options, who their current ISP is, and which ISP they would prefer if given the choice.
Few Louisville residents currently have fiber, but those who do have AT&T
Out of 729 responses from Louisville residents, 66 currently have AT&T Fiber and another 11 are in the process of getting it. Those numbers drop for Google Fiber: Only nine people said they have Google Fiber, with 23 in the process of getting it. This means around 11% of respondents want and have access to AT&T Fiber, while only 4% of respondents can access or are actively obtaining Google Fiber.
However, AT&T Fiber has been available longer than Google Fiber. AT&T Fiber launched in Louisville in October 2016, according to an AT&T spokesperson. Google Fiber connected its first customer in October 2017. The age gap could be a reason more people have AT&T Fiber than have Google Fiber.
Google Fiber more well-known, desired
While AT&T claims more customers in the city, more have heard of Google Fiber in their area. Around 44% of respondents heard AT&T Fiber was coming to or available in their area, with 64% hearing the same about Google Fiber, despite AT&T being available in more neighborhoods and for a longer period of time. This suggests Google's advertising announcing their arrival may have been stronger or more clear.
But was the advertising effective? If, given the option between either fiber provider, regardless of its current availability in their neighborhood, which would they choose?
Nearly half—48%—said they would go for either option, suggesting incumbent ISP Spectrum may not be popular with Louisville residents (some respondents, when asked who their current ISP was, referred to Spectrum as "awful" or a "scam"). Only 2% said they wouldn't use either fiber option.
Past that, 39% of respondents said they would only give Google Fiber a chance. Only 3% said the same about AT&T Fiber, suggesting that while AT&T Fiber has more respondents signed up currently, Louisville residents are excited for the newcomer and AT&T may need to be worried about its stake in Louisville if Google Fiber expands to more neighborhoods.
Google Fiber's popularity seems to extend beyond the survey. An informal poll in the Nextdoor neighborhood discussion forum for one of the neighborhoods where Google Fiber is available asked how the provider compared to Spectrum and AT&T. Almost half of the respondents said Google is better than Spectrum, and another 26% said it was better than AT&T. A total of 15% said it was worse than AT&T or Spectrum.
While the data seems to show a higher level of excitement for Google Fiber, it's still too early to tell which provider will come out on top in Louisville. Although both sides are making major headway, one thing is for certain: The broadband battle in Louisville is far from over.
- Photos: How Google Fiber is using 'shallow trenching' to outbuild its gigabit rivals (TechRepublic)
- The rise and fall and rise again of Google Fiber: A timeline (TechRepublic)
- Google Fiber: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Google Fiber chief steps down after five months in the job (ZDNet)
- How Google Fiber launched in Louisville in just 5 months (TechRepublic)
Olivia Krauth is an Education Reporter at Insider Louisville.