Google Fiber: Good For Your Health?

Posted by · February 8, 2012 4:29 pm

Two years ago, Google announced its plan “to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks” in a few select U.S. cities. In an effort to promote next-generation app development, test new fiber network building techniques and promote competition, Google promised that its new “experimental fiber network” would deliver Internet speeds of more than 100 times the national average.

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...When the announcement was made, more than a thousand cities volunteered for the Google Fiber experiment. And after successfully setting up a beta network for 850 homes at Stanford, Google decided to conduct its citywide experiment on the neighbor cities of Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri.

In addition to being an opportunity for Google to show off its ability to bring impressive 1Gbps Internet speeds to entire cities, the company insists that its primary purpose is “to make a meaningful contribution to the shared goal of delivering faster and better Internet for everyone.”

How Can Google Fiber Help Me?

On its face, such a goal appears to have no downside. Given the nation’s rank as 26th in the world for broadband speeds, the United States could benefit highly from such a project. With one in three Americans still lacking access to high-speed Internet at home, the Google Fiber project could serve to close the massive gap while simultaneously lifting the country’s currently dismal speeds.

In turn—at least in the short term—increased access to the Internet across the country will only benefit the slowly growing American economy. Increased exposure to the information superhighway will certainly lead to increased consumption. Increased access at home will allow people with dreams of staring their own business to do just that.

Furthermore, the introduction of affordable Internet at such high speeds across the country promises to finally put pressure on lackadaisical ISPs to increase their speeds and make their bloated prices more competitive. Despite offering some of the slowest speeds in the world, U.S. companies currently charge some of the highest prices compared to their global counterparts. While some of that likely has to do with the country’s comparatively old technological infrastructure (a whole different problem) and coarse terrain, the brunt of the problem rests elsewhere—an absence of competition.

In addition to the severe lack of high-speed access that plagues a third of the U.S., those who do have access to the Web at home typically have two Internet companies, if that, competing for their business—one through the phone line and another through cable.

To put this into perspective, most European consumers have dozens of broadband providers to choose from, and typically at a much lower price. This is because, unlike in the U.S., European law ensures that phone and cable lines are open markets in which more multiple companies offer their services to consumers. As a result, European providers actually have to compete with each other to keep their customers—an ideal situation for a consumer looking to maximize speeds and minimize cost.

This reality stands in stark comparison to the reality that American consumers currently face, where the lack of competition leaves providers with little to no incentive to offer faster service or keep prices affordable. Given the current lack of competition, the installation of Google Fiber across American cities seems like a no-brainer, but, as is true of most things in life, the decision is not that simple.

What Are Google Fiber’s Potential Side Effects?

Although there is a terrible lack of fast, affordable Internet access in this country, such a deficiency does not require that we choose the first attractive option that presents itself.

This is especially true when such an option’s presenter is known for going against some of the very virtues that it simultaneously claims to promote.

It’s important not to forget the controversial agreement between Google and Verizon in 2010, specifically the language that threatened to undermine net neutrality by favoring certain types of content over others. Nor should consumers neglect to consider the current controversy surrounding Google’s new privacy policy or the ongoing anti-trust investigation into its search practices.

These reasons alone ought to give enthusiastic supporters of the Google Fiber initiative pause, even if for no other reason than the fact that the company’s reputation is still subject to so much criticism. If the potential side effects (a Google monopoly across almost every section of the Internet) are worse than ailment that needs to be treated (high prices and poor service), perhaps a better method of treatment is out there. In fact, I’m certain there is.

Winners Don’t Always Have To Come In First

It’s a common misconception to equate being exceptional to always having to rely on oneself for all the right answers. In other words, following someone else’s lead is often considered weak and unimaginative. But that could not be further from the truth. To be sure, such a mindset destines one for eventual stagnation.

While the United States may have been the first country to have the Internet, the facts discussed earlier clearly demonstrate that we no longer lead the world when it comes to our own invention. The reason? Other countries have since followed our lead, and in doing so have made improvements as they make the Internet available to their own populations. Such improvements include investment in newer, higher quality infrastructure, as well as the passage of economic policies that ensure continual competition, keeping the rate of quality improvement and affordability at a steady upward slope.

Obviously, the advent of the Internet was a great starting point. In fact, that starting point launched the world into a new age of commerce, communication and general connectedness never before seen. But it was still just that: a starting point.

If the United States is interested in making its way back to the top of the Internet totem pole, it cannot do so by relying on old infrastructure and outdated policies. Nor can it be done through flashy new initiatives like that of Google Fiber, which would, at best, serve as more of a temporary bandage than a healing ointment to our ailing technological infrastructure.

Rather, it’s time to face the facts. The U.S. is no longer in first place. But that doesn’t mean the country must wallow back in 26th place until a new idea that renders the Internet as we know it obsolete can justify renewed investment in the nation’s technological infrastructure and policy. If that’s the current strategy, it won’t be long until the country longs for the days when it was only in 26th place.

It was Albert Einstein who said, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Perhaps it’s time to heed his advice and begin borrowing back from the countries that initially borrowed from us.

Enhanced by Zemanta