Google's 'Toilet ISP' Not So Far Fetched

Elements of Google's April Fool's Day "Toilet ISP" gag were once a central feature in a start-up that raised $375 million.

Rich Miller

April 2, 2007

2 Min Read
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Google's annual April Fools' Day joke for 2007 features Google TiSP, a fictional service promising free home wireless broadband service "by connecting your commode-based TiSP wireless router to one of thousands of TiSP Access Nodes via fiber-optic cable strung through your local municipal sewage lines." The Toilet ISP connects using the "patented GFlush™ system" that sends cabling from your TiSP router through the pipes so Google's Plumbing Hardware Dispatchers (PHDs) can plug the line into its global data networking system. It's worth clicking through just for the cartoon scuba diver.

It seems laughable today. But back in 2001, delivering broadband through sewers was a real business plan that received $375 million in funding. CityNet Telecom used robots to deploy fiber optic cabling through city sewer systems, avoiding the need to tear up city streets to lay fiber. There were no commode-based routers or scuba-diving network techs. Instead, CityNet used a computer-controlled robot called SAM, which allowed the company to create sewer-based networks in at least two U.S. cities.

CityNet launched in April 2000 with $100 million in funding from Telecom Partners, Crescendo Ventures and CIBC Capital Partners, and then received another $175 million in debt and equity funding in 2001 from investors including The Carlyle Group, Berkshire Partners and Trimaran Capital Partners. It wired the sewers in Albuquerque and Indianapolis before merging with Universal Access in 2003. The domain is now owned by domain speculators.

Previous Google April Fool's Day pranks include Google Gulp in 2005 and Pigeon Rank in 2002. This year's TiSP press release explains that co-founder Larry Page is "a longtime supporter of so-called 'dark porcelain' research and development." Another quote: "I couldn't be more excited about, and am only slightly grossed out by, this remarkable new product," said Marissa Mayer, Google's Vice President of Search Products and User Experience. "I firmly believe TiSP will be a breakthrough product, particularly for those users who, like Larry himself, do much of their best thinking in the bathroom."

UPDATE: Om Malik notes that TiSP is Google's way of poking fun at a competing proposal to offer wireless in San Francisco, which apparently would track sewer infrastructure.

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