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Posted on Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 5:50 a.m.

Comcast, others may threaten Ann Arbor's Google fiber optic hopes

By Nathan Bomey

Google’s proposed installation of ultra high-speed Internet networks in select U.S. communities -- a project Ann Arbor hopes to win -- is likely to incur opposition from powerful telecommunications opponents.

Major Internet service providers will aim to legislatively torpedo anything that threatens to pry open competitive floodgates in the Internet service market, experts said.

For Ann Arbor, that pits Google against giant firms like Comcast and AT&T in a high-stakes telecommunications wrestling match.

As a high-speed Internet service provider, Comcast’s business model - and to a lesser extent, AT&T - would be threatened by the mass introduction of new providers.

Thumbnail image for Larry Page at University of Michigan.JPG

Google co-founder Larry Page, a University of Michigan graduate, could be a target of Ann Arbor executives hoping to convince Google to select the city for an ultra high-speed Internet project.

Therefore, industry observers said, Comcast inevitably will launch a lobbying campaign in Washington to place regulatory roadblocks in Google’s path - even if those efforts undermine Ann Arbor’s chances at landing the project.

“I think they’re going to fight like hell to keep Google from doing this,” said Steve Pierce, co-founder of Wireless Ypsi and president of Ypsilanti-based Web server firm HDL. “I’m excited about the opportunity of Google coming in because they’ve got enough wherewithal to fight the legislative attack that we’ll see come from Comcast and AT&T.”

Comcast spent about $12.59 million on lobbying efforts in 2009, according to watchdog site AT&T  spent about $14.7 million, and Google spent about $4.03 million.

Google on Feb. 10 issued a request-for-information detailing its plans to install a high-speed fiber optic network in a region serving between 50,000 and 500,000 users. Google said its network would be 100 times faster than commercially available service.

Ann Arbor city officials, business leaders and the University of Michigan are coordinating an effort to convince Google to install the network in Ann Arbor. 

The Internet giant said it wants to establish the network to demonstrate the impact of a high-speed network on a technology economy. Among Google's goals: "giving users the choice of multiple service providers."

"Consistent with our past advocacy, we'll manage our network in an open, non-discriminatory, and transparent way," Google said.

That philosophy places Google opposite AT&T and Comcast, which would face additional competition if Google refused to provide service rights to a single major player.

Comcast, for its part, is remaining silent. Comcast officials deferred comment to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. An AT&T spokeswoman declined to comment.

NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz told that it’s “too early” to tell how Google’s project would impact major ISPs. But he predicted that Google’s ambition would not present a problem for ISPs.

“We just don’t know much about it,” Dietz said. “They’ve been pretty upfront saying their intention is not to compete with the Internet service providers.”

But Esme Vos, an attorney and editor of San Francisco-based, said Comcast and other major ISPs would leverage their extensive lobbying power to block additional competition.

“Of course they will,” she said. “Comcast can stall, they can do what it is they do. But they need to have some answer to this.”

Pierce said Comcast and AT&T would “scream like stink” regardless of which communities Google selects for the project.

“But they’re not going to do it publicly. I think they’re going to do it through regulation,” Pierce said.

However, Vos said incumbent ISPs may face a steep climb in the fight against Google.

“Google has done a good job of casting themselves as the good guys,” she said.

Google has not revealed details about how it would structure its investment. Early hints suggest that Google would manage the high-speed network itself but allow all ISPs to sell data plans to customers.

With intense competition for business, data prices might drop.

“I’m actually very excited about what Google’s trying to do because I think we need competition,” Pierce said.

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or or follow him on Twitter. You can also subscribe to Business Review's weekly e-newsletter or the upcoming breaking business news e-newsletter.



Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 8:48 p.m.

Comcast your days are numbered.


Sun, Mar 7, 2010 : 2:59 a.m.

We were pushed over the edge financially with Google. They are WAY over-priced, and customer service sucks...if you don't mind waiting for a call to get through. Sometimes, they simply shut down their phone service. We decided to give Comcast the boot. Google can offer this area a huge improvement...and they seem to be trustworthy (EVERY company is more trustworthy than Comcast and AT&T!


Sat, Mar 6, 2010 : 10:04 p.m.

ComCast and AT&T are content to sit on their copper cable asses while other countries forge ahead with national fiber optic systems. But hey - we've got the best health-care system in the world, compliments of the insurance industry so we ought to be able to make do with our old reliable copper cable system too, right? Yeah, dream on!


Sat, Mar 6, 2010 : 2:21 p.m.

I've had Comcast for at least 10 years in Ann Arbor and they provide a highly reliable and feature packed value based service (gotta love DVR, OnDemand and 12Mbit service!!). They spend alot of resources updating infrastruture, ferreting cables and fiber, upgrading services and support. Why should they be denied a reasonable profit in a similar fashion that allowed Microsoft to grow? The FTC won't allow Google to be in software, hardware, communications, searching and ISP services. Google is close to being a contestable monopoly and Comcast and ATT will have a good case against it without any additional lobbying.

Marty Mung

Thu, Mar 4, 2010 : 12:47 p.m.

Anything that would put an end to Comcast's arrogant and unremitting price increases would be welcome as far as I'm concerned. Now I know where a chunk of my ridiculously large monthly Comcast payment is going -- to lobby politicians against any competition that might thwart Comcast's monetary interests.


Thu, Mar 4, 2010 : 12:06 a.m.

this is all speculation - "Googles proposed installation of ultra high-speed likely to incur opposition from powerful telecommunications opponents" I know a lot of people have had issues with Comcast but look at it this way, Comcast has well over 600 employees in Ann Arbor. Comcast is one of the few companies in the country that is hiring more people...and they pay really well. Probably 95% of Comcast customers have no service issues...some customers aren't happy with the prices they pay, but here's the deal - nobody really NEEDS these services, especially premium cable packages. I don't think Comcast will be happy about Google's plans but they really can't do anything about it. There aren't any laws preventing Google from starting up this new service, the reason Comcast appears to have a monopoly in most cities is because its so expensive to start up a broadband service. I wish Google would do this in areas that don't already have broadband options...I know a lot of people who are still using dial-up because they are too far out of the city.

Basic Bob

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 11:23 p.m.

If anyone including Google wants to lay fiber in Ann Arbor, that is a great idea! Regarding Comcast, not sure what specific evil others are speaking of, but I have not experienced any. For all the Comcast bashers out there, I ran a speed test at home and got 13Mb/s. There is no other service available with that level of bandwidth. This is with the same cable modem I purchased years ago and for only $3 more than when I first signed up. SBC/AT&T could not provide DSL because I was too far from the CO. Even dialup service was limited to 28.8k because of the equipment installed in my neighborhood by SBC/AT&T.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 11:07 p.m.

Perfect example of why monopolies need to be broken. Other countries enjoy broadband access for peanuts compared to the US. To all that propose and support a free market model now is the time for you to speak up and call your legislators. So far Google has been doing great things and this is an another example. More fiber can only help business and user access. I am all for it. GO GOOGLE!


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 10:40 p.m.

No Grapes on Dishnetwork? Thanks for the heads up. I've been thinking of ditching the non electriczal lines to my house for a litle bit now. I could just hang out in the local McDonalds parking lot when I need to use the net.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 9:49 p.m.

"SatTV sounds great until you have to go on the roof and bang the dish becasue it has snow on it." I've had Dish Network for nearly six years now and haven't ever lost signal due to snow on the dish. Thank goodness, because I'm not about to climb 20 feet up to my 12/12 pitch roof for anything. They do make signal-transparent covers that prevent snow from collecting on a dish antenna too, in case you're worried about missing even a single showing of "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader". Heavy rain between the dish and satellite can cause enough signal loss that the receiver will give up temporarily, but that only seems to happen once or twice for a few minutes each summer. Or maybe it's that I watch so little television, that I don't notice more storm-related outages. If a storm that bad is in the area, we probably shouldn't be watching TV anyway. A larger diameter dish (24 or 30 inch, rather than the standard 18) would reduce that too. The only drawback to satellite TV I can see is that they don't provide Windsor's Channel 9 as a local channel. Sad, but no "Hockey Night in Canada".

Stephen Landes

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 6:29 p.m.

So COMCAST would hold An Arbor's future hostage to their limited old network? That's the best reason I can think of for ending their cable monopoly status. Let the cable commission earn their keep (finally) by telling COMCAST that we will throw the bums out. I switched from COMCAST to ATT U-verse recently; I'll tell ATT I don't want them to put roadblocks in the way of our city's high tech future. If they do, well, hello DishNetwork.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 6:25 p.m.

I live in Lodi Township, and I'm deeply dissatisfied with Comcast, like many of my neighbors. When I called AT&T to find out if there are choices, I was told that my neighborhood is under some sort of regulatory rule that was put in place when Bell was broken up, not allowing them to compete here. That gave Comcast a de-facto monopoly, and I have no choice but to stay with Comcast if I want high-speed internet access at home, which I need for my job. I can only hope that new players like Google emerge and give me a choice!


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 4:26 p.m.

Well, the city of Ann Arbor has given Comcast and it prior namesakes a monopoly for a really longtime, it is about time that comes to an end.

Kevin S. Devine

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 4:08 p.m.

Sorry, legislators, not legislators'

Kevin S. Devine

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 4:01 p.m.

Way to fail, Comcast. Aren't we learning business lessons on innovation and adaptability every day? Bomey writes: "As a high-speed Internet service provider, Comcasts business model - and to a lesser extent, AT&T - would be threatened by the mass introduction of new providers." That's like the US auto companies back in the day when their business model featured gas-guzzling engines, and look what happened eventually to their market share. You can only stand in the way of innovation so long, so either step up to the plate with a comparable or better service and competitive price or get out of the way. Maybe some people like Comcast's products and services, but I'm thinking what most customers like is internet service, phone service and/or TV programs -- the provider "brand" is secondary. If someone else can provide the same products and services better, faster and cheaper (or two of the three), Comcast is in trouble -- unless they put the hurt on the legislators' by witholding donations to their campaign coffers and using our state government to deter a competitive marketplace.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 3:48 p.m.

Marzan might have been refering to the downtown area? Is At&t in the downtown? I thinkn they have a box on willaim by hamilton.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 3:40 p.m.

More players in the game means we'll get better service for less. AT&T and Comcast will have to improve service and/or reduce prices to compete, and if they want to maintain their profit margin they'll have to look into ways to reduce costs. This may mean funding research into newer technologies, etc. I don't see how this can possibly be a bad thing for anyone in the long run.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 3:28 p.m.

Marzan....if you get a AT&T landline and live in Ann Arbor, I am probably sure you can use them and get internet. I am not sure you can get AT&T internet in certain western Washtenaw areas. In Manchester can get an AT&T landline but not internet which is terribly stupid...are you listening AT&T? I hope Google comes in kicks sure to come out to Manchester!

Sandra Samons

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 3:26 p.m.

I am a satisfied Comcast customer (TV, phone, internet) but isn't free enterprise and competition what makes our economy strong?


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 3:05 p.m.

Any chance we can get AT&T in town? I'd really like to switch away from comcast.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 2:44 p.m.

Comcast and AT&T need the competition. They have had a monopoly on the telecommunications sector for years. Unfortunately they have Washington already bought and paid for so it won't be easy for Google to break in.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 1:56 p.m.

It is about time!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am from Allentown, Pa, the first city to have cable. There are 4 companies there, and seniors pay very little for full service. We need the competition and hopefully lower prices because of it. Many times Comcast is Comcraptic!


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 1:46 p.m.

"Why doesn't the City Council spend their time backing this rather than evaluating a waste of money on the runway expansion???" Well I heard CC backing this, do you have anything showing them supporting the runway expansion?


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 1:40 p.m.

Having a high speed internet connection available through Google would do quite a bit for stimulating business in Ann Arbor. It would be a legitimate reason for a business to set up shop or relocate to Ann Arbor. This effort would have 5,000 times the positive economic effect on the area that the silly airport runway expansion would have. Why doesn't the City Council spend their time backing this rather than evaluating a waste of money on the runway expansion???


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 1:40 p.m.

"Google's corporate motto: "Dont be evil" Phew, that's a load of my mind. I'll just belive that corporation then.

Atticus F.

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 1:33 p.m.

Google's corporate motto: "Dont be evil"

Nathan Bomey

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 1:17 p.m. editor Esme Vos weighs in with some additional thoughts on this issue: Highlight: "Havent we learned any lessons from the past? If you allow one company a cable operator, telco, Internet search engine to control access to communications, in the middle or last mile, it will not give up so easily and it will do everything in its power to stop competitors. It will use the political process buying elected officials to do its bidding." "Do you think Google, a highly profitable enterprise, will be much nicer? What controls should we be putting on companies like Google that will end up owning such an important piece of infrastructure?" "Dont get me wrong. I am very happy to see Google come in and give the incumbents the thrashing they deserve. But we have to move beyond our emotions and our tendency to view Google=good/incumbents=bad. We have to reject the mainstream medias obsession with sensationalizing everything and turning complex matters such as this into a Grand Wrestling Match."


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 1:03 p.m.

Perhaps could speak with someone with experience in producing viable polls...not just asking someone to answer an unrealistic question due to lack of evidence.

PR of AA

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 12:56 p.m.

Hasn't Comcast had the monopoly long enough????


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 12:22 p.m.

"If Comcast sues to stop this, I will switch my cable tv to satellite immediately" Problem with comcast is everything i've seen is quite a bit better than anyone else. SatTV sounds great until you have to go on the roof and bang the dish becasue it has snow on it. I think they are by far the best cable option right now, but I'd LOVE to dump them on Internet.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 12:18 p.m.

I believe Comcast has more clout and together with AT&T this will b e a struggle. I hope Google prevails as I would love to have an alternative to Comcast and AT&T. If congress is really in favor of competition it is a no brainer.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 12:04 p.m.

If Comcast sues to stop this, I will switch my cable tv to satellite immediately. While I don't love Comcast, especially their service, they did provide me broadband for years the phone company was still charging 3 times as much for terribly slow and buggy ISDN service. Unfortunately satellite/wireless internet is way too slow for my needs, so I can't get rid of the wired internet service no matter how much I dislike the provider.

Atticus F.

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 11:31 a.m.

Here's a link to Googles page about free broadband service. I was amazed at what they were able to offer...Until I realized that the page was created on April 1st of last year.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 11:19 a.m.

Who do we lobby to in order to get OUR voice heard that COMCAST is terrible and we want more choice!?!?!? - hates comcast

Atticus F.

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 11:14 a.m.

I really love to see Google crush, or at least compete with evil companies...It does my heart good.

university brat

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 11:06 a.m.

Anti-trust laws were written to protect "We The People" from the manipulation of the market place that corporate giants like Comcast are getting away with. Too bad those with the legal know how are not challenging the greed of said corporation. Down with Comcast!


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 10:59 a.m.

Gee another expected surprise. Of course the entrenched providers are going to oppose change or anything that may hit their revenue on their oligopoly. Perhaps the city's lobbyist and politic and should mount their own campaign in Lansing to thwart such legislation. Or perhaps they should reconsider who holds local franchises for communication in the city, county and change the provider for the public benenfit.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 10:54 a.m.

Oh, this is getting interesting. The resulting legal battle between Comcast and Google ought to be a lot of fun.

John Galt

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 10:45 a.m.

Comcast should let the free market decide if this is viable. Instead, they will run to the bought-and-paid-for politicians to try to prevent competition.

Eric D

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 10:29 a.m.

I don't think the question should be who has more clout, Comcast and AT&T spent a combined almost 30 million last year in Washington. That buys a lot of politicians. There is no way that Comcast and AT&T want fair competition in the high speed internet market or for that matter in any of the telecommunications markets. I think if it's a question of who would you trust to give you a good product at a fair price, Google would win, hands down. Comcast and AT&T would fall somewhere below Darth Vader on that list.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 10:17 a.m.

John in Saline, it appears Verizon sold the Michigan assets to Frontier, and they will be doing the POTS servers in Michigan now. I doubt they will do FiOS, so I'm interested as I too am a Saline resident and the AA Google plan appears it may bleed into surrounding counties, especially since Wireless Washtenaw didn't pan out for the west half of the county.

John of Saline

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 10:01 a.m.

Verizon's the local phone carrier for Saline. They offer fiber-optic TV/cable/phone to homes in their areas--but not in Michigan, and maybe not ever around here. Thanks, guys.

Nathan Bomey

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 9:58 a.m.

PittsfieldTwp, here's a link to an in-depth report we published in January about Wireless Washtenaw. The initiative is effectively stalled and hopes to acquire federal stimulus funding to expand its network.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 9:49 a.m.

Whatever happens, please just give me some other option besides Comcast. Not only are they expensive, but cable internet speed has dropped significantly lately. ATT keeps teasing my neighborhood with direct mail about Uverse, but its not available. Whatever happened to Wireless Washtenaw?

just a homeowner

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 9:47 a.m.

Anything to compete with Comcast's stranglehold on internet access is a good thing.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 9:46 a.m.

I was beyond excited when we showed Comcast the door and let AT&T UVerse in! The picture quality was amazingly better, and the internet is great! Now I'm excited to see Google get in on this! I hope that they do! More choices are always better when it comes to what you are paying and what you are getting with the internet (and hopefully tv).


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 9:41 a.m.

It sure would be nice.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 9:21 a.m.

Competition should be good for consumers, and this competition should be good to watch as it develops, for all the "techies".


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 9:12 a.m.

Boo to Comcast and AT&T + others standing in the way of revolutionary strides as this!


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

From my house I can see the Uverse box but I cannot get service (just a bit too far). Cannot get Verizon they do not do AA because of the some sort of rules. I cannot afford Comcast - and I would never watch over 80% of the stations offered. At one time I thought we were a free market - with Comcast's stronghold on Ann Arbor for now this is a lose lose.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

Google? Comcast? What's the diff? Both of them want to get deeper into our wallets. Both of them want to corner the market and limit public access to broadband. Comcast=Google=limited public broadband access.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 8:53 a.m.

I hope Google can provide a better Internet Service than Comcast has for Us. I look forward to reading about this as development continues.....

Jay Jay

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 8:40 a.m.

Notice how all the comments are negative to Comcast -- doesn't that by itself tell a story (unless one doesn't wish to see it). That Comcast has to appeal to Congress to protect its turf and cannot fend for itself against competition, do you wonder why their prices are so exorbitant? Comcast is run by financial types who know nothing of customer satisfaction -- ever try to contact their customer support -- canned answers and no resolution. If Google should fail, get rerady to further open your pocketbook.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 8:27 a.m.

I can't think of one good thing about Comcast. I'm glad I gave them the boot years ago.

Chase Ingersoll

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 8:26 a.m.

Conveying what Councilman Suarez advised me over a year ago, "...Comcast and cable provider licenses used to be governed by the municipalities that granted them the utility easement. They [Comcast and telecom providers] lobbied the state legislature to take away LOCAL governance, so now there is nothing the cities can do in regards to prices, quality or customer services..." The result was closing of customer service/sales offices, that were replaced by regional call centers. Comcast & AT&T are going to fight this. But two things worth mentioning....I seem to recall that Google and other VC has been out there buying up un-used optical fiber that was laid in the telecom boom bust [MCI, Woldcom] more than a decade ago. Google may be putting out for public consumption, cost estimates that will make AT&T and Comcast comfortable with their hope that it is really too expensive for Google to roll out into anything but a handful of markets. Further, I suspect that Google has the next generation of technology up its sleeve that they plan to use to dramatically reduce the cost of getting service from the fiber optic trunk at the street, into the residence. This could be wireless, [and the reason that Google was purchasing spectrum last year] or it could be something along the lines of sending encrypted data over the electromagnetic via the electrical service going into every home. I suspect it will be fun to watch.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 8:10 a.m.

Once again these "polls" are in question. The better question would be Do you favor Google providing competition to Comcast and AT&T? Maybe should have a poll asking if we would like to frame the poll question.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 8:09 a.m.

It would be nice if Google would do this somewhere that doesn't have both Comcast AND AT & T. I'm not even in a rural area and I have no affordable choices.

The Picker

Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 8:05 a.m.

Why wasn't the A2 cable czar interviewed for this article? Must have gotten voice mail like everyone gets when you call them, they never return calls. Anyone who doesn't support competition is doomed to a future of Comcast hell.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 7:50 a.m.

"Another reason to boycott Comcast"? That's 102 reasons on my list now. Seriously, we need some competition in the telecom/cable market. Perhaps Google has the clout to bring it on.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 7:29 a.m.

Another reason to boycott Comcast


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 7:25 a.m.

Comcast, AT&T, competition is what got you to where you are. It is what keeps you innovating and not gouging. I could hear the opposite argument from Google saying "The barriers to entry are too high to supplant an already existing infrastructure for AT&T and Comcast, how can we compete against those giants?" Let's face it, if Comcast and AT&T provided a high quality and desired product, then competition would be squashed and die on the vine, but if someone builds a better mouse trap, why would we not use it? Comcast, should you be scared, yes, but I think you mostly have to blame yourself for that not Google or Ann Arbor area residents. Someone remind me, didn't the state of Michigan create a stature that said exclusive agreements with TV providers was no longer allowed? Isn't that how FiOS and this Google initiative had an opportunity to compete?


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 7:20 a.m.

The lack of competition is an issue, but so also is the situation in which some rural residents find themselves. Although fiber optic cables have been laid along my road, I have no access to them. I am just outside the area where AT&T can provide DSL, they also cannot provide me with UVerse, I am not within the Wireless Ypsi service area, and Comcast is a company with which I do not want to do business.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 6:47 a.m.

What it means is if Google is allowed to install fiber optic, we will finally have some competition. If not lower prices, at least better service.Comcast will cut your service ( for a year) if you use to much bandwidth.


Wed, Mar 3, 2010 : 6:25 a.m.

Which company has more clout? Yet to be seen since the battle hasn't been fought. And who cares about the readers' Comcast clout vs. Google clout opinion. One of them is going to win the vote and what is that going to tell us? Might be overdoing it with the polls.