Google Pulls Plug on Webpass Internet in Boston Amid Growing Competition

Xconomy Boston — 

In another setback for Google’s Internet business, the tech giant has decided to wind down the Boston-area operations of Webpass, a wireless Internet service provider Google Fiber acquired in June 2016.

A statement e-mailed by a Google spokeswoman didn’t give a reason for the decision.

“We’ll work with customers and partners to minimize disruption, and there will be no immediate impacts to their Webpass service,” according to the statement. “We continue to see strong subscriber response across the rest of the Webpass portfolio, including successful launches in Denver and Seattle in 2017.”

Webpass’s service—which provides high-speed Internet access to homes (primarily large apartment complexes) and businesses—is now available in seven metropolitan areas nationwide, according to its website. Webpass was founded in 2003 in San Francisco by Charles Barr, who is no longer with the company. At the time of the firm’s acquisition, it had grown to serve “tens of thousands” of customers in five metropolitan areas—without the help of venture capital. It’s one of the upstarts enabling consumers to “cut the cord” from cable and phone giants, and just pay for Internet and so-called over-the-top video content from Netflix, Hulu, Apple, Amazon, and the like.

But Webpass’s path has been a painstaking slog filled with logistical and political challenges. The business has had to methodically build out its technological infrastructure city by city, which involves negotiating with property owners and managers to install its antennas on buildings; navigate long-standing regulations that Barr has argued favor entrenched cable and phone giants; and fight to wrestle customers away from those big Internet service providers. Webpass has also faced competition from other small Internet vendors, including Boston-area rivals NetBlazr and Starry, a heavily funded startup that has been rolling out its service here over the past couple of years.

Google Fiber, meanwhile, has struggled to deliver on its ambitious plans to offer fiber-optic Internet service in cities nationwide. The business reportedly went through layoffs in 2016, and it has also paused rollouts in some cities. Fiber networks are expensive to build, which might be one reason why the company expanded into wireless Internet delivery—and grew its national footprint—with the Webpass acquisition. Google’s fiber Internet service is currently available in 12 metro areas, according to its website.

[In the above file photo, a technician installs antennas on a roof that will be used to deliver wireless Internet service. Photo courtesy of Webpass.]

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