Google Officially Launched Google Fiber…And Why That Should Scare More Than Just Cable CompaniesJuly 26, 2012 4:15 pm ·
After choosing Kansas City (both parts) as the first city to receive its “experimental fiber network” known as Google Fiber last year, Google has been at hard work preparing to launch its pilot “ultra high-speed broadband network.” Impressively, just over a year later, the web giant is proud to announce that Google Fiber is now officially live for Kansas City communities (known as “fiberhoods”).
From the Google Fiber Blog:
[We] embarked on a journey to bring ultra-high speeds to Kansas City, [Kansas], and Kansas City, [Missouri]. And today, we’re excited to announce Google Fiber. Google Fiber is 100 times faster than today’s average broadband. No more buffering. No more loading. No more waiting. Gigabit speeds will get rid of these pesky, archaic problems and open up new opportunities for the web.
The folks at Google then supplemented their blog post with a clever video in which it used animated toy cars driving on a road (the “information superhighway,” if you will) to demonstrate the evolution of internet speeds. For maximum effect, the video starts with dialup and its annoying yet now oddly humorous sound effects and far less humorous 56K speeds; then makes its way to broadband; and then, of course, ends with Google Fiber, which allegedly provides speeds up to 1Gbps.
Given such an impressive presentation, not to mention the unbelievable speeds, it isn’t the least bit surprising that all Google has to do now is sit back and wait for Kansas City communities to flock to the company to have their neighborhoods turned into “fiberhoods.” Over the next six weeks, Google will be holding a pre-registration “rally” during which these communities will attempt to prove that their communities are “connected together” enough to have Google Fiber installed.
“After the rally, we’ll let you know if your fiberhood has reached its goal,” Google continues. “If so you can sign up for your service package. The first homes will get service shortly after the rally ends, and all qualifying neighborhoods will receive service before the end of 2013.”
And so, let the games begin.
Beware Cable Companies, Google Fiber Is Here
Quite predictably, the response to Google Fiber’s official launch has shifted the gaze of pundits onto the cable companies that now enjoy a sizeable, largely unchallenged share of the ISP wealth. As the sole owners of the cables that connect residents to the rest of the world, these companies have enjoyed small monopolies in communities all across the country. By providing a competitor where once there were virtually none (one of Google’s stated goals with this project), Google Fiber is sure to have cable companies re-thinking their currently lucrative strategies.
In a piece bearing the title “Google Fiber: Start wetting the bed, cable companies,” BGR’s Brad Reed evaluates Google Fiber’s “ridiculously awesome” value (1Gbps service at $120/month) and its implications for providers like Comcast and Verizon (Xfinity and FiOS, respectively), whose top-tier services provide nearly a quarter of the speed for almost twice the price. In his conclusion, Reed writes:
And really, this is why Google Fiber is important, even if it never reaches beyond Kansas City: It demonstrates not only how slow most home broadband connections are but how overpriced they are as well. And if Google is correct that fiber-caliber speeds will be key to America remaining economically competitive over the next century, then both business and consumer demand for such high-speed networks will be absolutely huge in the coming years. And if the big-name ISPs don’t feel like keeping up, then Google has shown that big-name tech companies can capably replace them.
This might sound reasonable at first, but in reality, it’s probably little more than a fantasy. Indeed, it is nice to think that the presence of Google Fiber in one American city might spark an internet speed revolution across the company. However, given the virtually nonexistent influence of consumer demand in a monopoly or duopoly, I wouldn’t advise anyone to hold their breath until that happens.
However, even if Google Fiber did receive enough support and investment to spread to every corner of the country (or at least its major cities), affordable access and high speeds may not be worth the ultimate price that such a minimally competitive environment take in exchange for such benefits.
Google Fiber and Net Neutrality
As some might recall, I’ve had little difficulty giving credit where credit was due when it came to Google’s efforts to lift the United States from its currently abysmal broadband speed ranking of 26th in the world.
“With one in three American s 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,” I wrote back in February, when the Kansas City build was at its peak. “In turn—at least in the short term—increased access to the Internet across the country will only benefit the slowly growing American economy.”
By carefully hedging my optimism with the phrase “in the short term,” I was able to distinguish the admirable ends of this project immediately sought to address from the long-term ramifications that may make high speeds and ability less appealing, most notably what this means for the preservation of a free and open internet from gatekeepers that might seek to censor competing content in favor of promoting their own.
Although I name Google in this particular instance, net neutrality concerns span much further than any one company. As these institutions broaden their reach into various forms of online commerce, the potential for a conflict of interest already increases exponentially. To then allow these companies to become the gatekeepers of that same marketplace in which they compete leaves open the very real possibility for consumers to be exposed only to the parts of the market that favor that gatekeeper’s enterprise. This possibility is further compounded by the likelihood that, even with the addition of Google Fiber across the country, most consumers would still only have two options in terms of service providers.
To borrow from the Google Fiber video using cars driving on the road to illustrate my concerns, let’s pretend, as the video does, that the Internet is just like a road. Not only do roads connect us with our jobs, but they connect us with each other and with an expansive commercial world in which vendors compete for our business. And when we choose a given vendor, roads allow us to drive right up, park, and consume their products.
Should one of those vendors to take ownership of the roads and highways and make it more difficult, if not impossible, to reach any of its competitors—forcing consumers to either choose their business or stay home—this, of course, would be unacceptable.
So why would it be any better if companies did the same thing with the “information superhighway”?
Given its purpose as a digital road that connects our digital vehicles (computers, tablets, etc.) to an entire world of commerce in which companies set up digital storefronts (websites) to compete for our business, it is reasonable to conclude that the internet should remain free of the same kind of obstruction that would compromise the purpose of a physical road. This is particularly imperative given the dearth of digital roads competing for the business of the average American resident—a phenomenon that is far more culpable for the country’s slipping internet ranking over the past decade.
To be sure, the revitalization of U.S. technological infrastructure is neither the right nor the burden of a single company to bear. Not only would it be extraordinarily expensive for that company, but should, for instance, Google Fiber be made available to every American in the country, it is almost certain that Google—or any company for that matter—would seek a return on such a sizable investment.
And given country’s dated policy on the matter, there is currently little that would prevent such a return from being the internet experience itself.