Things have been looking bleak at Google Fiber for a while now. The burgeoning internet service provider lost one chief executive late last year, and this week, it lost another one. Greg McCray, who took the helm of Google Fiber only five months ago, just stepped down. The reasons why are unclear, but they appear to be embarrassing on a number of fronts.
For one, it's obvious that Google tried to sprint into the ISP business, and now, the company can't catch its breath. To extend that running metaphor, Google still can't see the finish line and already puked on its shoes twice. Incumbent US telecom giants such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have been making strides on gigabit infrastructure in recent months while Google Fiber has been flailing.
The internal strife, however, isn't merely a consequence of Google getting into a complicated and perhaps even unfair business. Ever since Google Fiber became a unit of Access, a new company under the Alphabet umbrella, the once ambitious plans for nationwide expansion in the US stuttered and then essentially stopped. Craig Barratt, the high-profile CEO of Access, abruptly resigned last October, when Alphabet said that it was cancelling his planned expansion of Google Fiber to eight new cities and was laying off nine per cent of the company's staff.
McCray took over in February of this year, and he got off to a rocky start. The very first time he addressed the Access staff, McCray said some things that offended a lot of people and led to a lot of HR complaints. Bloomberg describes the cringe-worthy event:
At the meeting, held in March, McCray was asked about his passion for sailing, which Page mentioned in an introductory email. McCray said that his wife would often call his boat his "mistress." Every man was entitled to a mistress, the new CEO proclaimed to audible gasps, said the people who asked not to be identified discussing company matters.
Multiple women reported the incident to the HR divisions of Access and Alphabet, the people said.
Google Fiber employees must be dealing with a lot of feelings right now. The seemingly sexist CEO who they probably didn't like isn't running the company any more, but this bump in the road must be very dispiriting. After all, as Access and Google Fibre scramble to get their crap together, Comcast and AT&T are expanding their gigabit internet offerings at breakneck speed.
Larry Page, the chief executive of Alphabet, said the company wasn't giving up its Fiber ambitions, despite McCray's exit. "We are committed to the success of Google Fiber," Page said in a statement. "The team is bringing gigabit connections to more and more happy customers."
Still the path forward for Google Fiber isn't obvious. Providing internet is hard, and it's really expensive. There's a maze of local, state and national regulations to wade through, and at the end of the day, the telecom giants have armies of lawyers who have a lot of practice in gaining an advantage and stopping competition. Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat recently said that the company has pumped the brakes on Google Fiber, because, well, it's really hard and expensive!
"At the end of the day, it isn't going to be the transformative play that we believed," Porat told the crowd at Alphabet Code Con in May.
And if you took a job at Google Fiber hoping to change the way internet service works, that's a really crappy thing to hear.