Google's gigabit Internet experiment

What would you do with a gigabit-per-second Internet connection?

I don't know the answer, but I'd love to find out.

Google announced Wednesday that it plans to build "ultra high speed" broadband networks in some parts of the U.S. My colleague Juan Carlos Perez has the story:

The fiber networks will deliver 1Gbps connections to homes at prices that will be "competitive," the company said. The services would cover between 50,000 and 500,000 people.

"Our goal is to experiment with new ways to help make Internet access better and faster for everyone," wrote Google product managers Minnie Ingersoll and James Kelly in a blog post.

Google sees ultra high-speed networks as necessary for next-generation Internet services, requiring abundant bandwidth, in education, health, entertainment and elsewhere.

Google is looking for cooperation from local governments and residents, who can nominate their communities through March 26.

The company provides examples of applications that could make use of ultra-high-speed Internet access:

Imagine sitting in a rural health clinic, streaming three-dimensional medical imaging over the web and discussing a unique condition with a specialist in New York. Or downloading a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes. Or collaborating with classmates around the world while watching live 3-D video of a university lecture. Universal, ultra high-speed Internet access will make all this and more possible.

But Google's Ingersoll says we really don't know what people will use that high-speed Internet access for: "Think back to when we all had dial-up, and no idea what would be possible once we moved to this broadband world."

And that's one of the beautiful things about a bandwidth leap like the one Google proposes: You just don't know how it will change your use of the Internet, and your life, until you tried it.

I thought I was perfectly happy with a dial-up connection to my home office in the 90s, but then I got an ISDN line and, soon afterwards, a cable modem. I thought I'd do the same things as before, only faster. But when I got the cable modem, I realized that it wasn't just the speed that was revolutionary, it was also revolutionary that my Internet connection was always on. I could count on being on the Internet as soon as I sat down at the computer, without having to wait for a dial-up modem to connect.

Today's broadband connections are the foundation on which the Internet is laid: Sites like YouTube, which disrupted the television industry, demand high-speed Internet access, and cloud-computing apps like Google Docs require a persistent Internet connection to be practical. iTunes, which disrupted the entertainment industry, arguably requires both a high-speed and persistent Internet connection to be practical; high-speed to download content, especially movies and TV shows, and persistent to work in the background.

A broadband leap like the one Google describes will have similar revolutionary effects.

One key feature of the network: It will be open access, giving users choice of multiple service providers.

The Google experiment is not unique. "Other countries like the UK (through OpenReach) and Australia are working on fiber networks that will be maintained by one entity, but open to all ISPs," reports Ars Technica.

This story literally put a smile on my face, and reminds me what I love about Google. The company takes a chainsaw to stagnant markets dominated by a few, complacent multinational companies. Google News toppled media giants. Google Docs and Chrome OS challenge Microsoft's desktop monopoly. Google Android phones threaten cell phone providers.

And now Google is poking a stick in the eyes of ISPs, who are fighting net neutrality in order to control Americans' Internet access (it works in Iran, why not try it here?). Google wants to build a network that's better than the monopoly offerings provided by ISPs, and open it up to competition. Good for Google.

Google as an ISP?

More Google News and Updates

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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