Google broadband: company to build 'ultra high-speed' network

Google announced plans Wednesday to built a high-speed fiber-optics network. The move is limited to small communities for now, but could eventually bring Internet prices down and transform the broadband industry.

Mark Lennihan/AP
A Google logo is displayed at the National Retail Federation convention in New York in January. On Wednesday, Google said it plans to build experimental, ultrafast Internet networks in a handful of communities around the US.

In a move that could alter the broadband business and continues its advance into telecom, Google announced plans Wednesday to build an “ultra high-speed,” fiber-optics network for as many as 500,000 people.

The Mountain View, Calif., company, which already provides free wi-fi in its hometown, said it will offer connections with speeds of 1 gigabit per second – that’s about 100 times faster than most home connections. It also plans on opening its fiber-optic network to third-party providers, potentially giving users multiple choices for their ISP, or Internet service provider, and increasing competition for broadband service.

Network will start in rural communities

Google is starting small – it’s asking interested communities in the US to apply now. It has suggested on its official blog that it may focus on rural communities, which would fit with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plan to expand Internet access in under-served areas.

"The FCC's National Broadband Plan will build upon such private-sector initiatives and will include recommendations for facilitating and accelerating greater investment in broadband, creating jobs and increasing America's global competitiveness," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement.

Google’s proposed experiment also has advocates for a more open Internet cheering.

"The FCC should use these examples to set forward-looking goals for the future of broadband throughout the United States,” said Ben Scott, policy director for Free Press, a nonprofit media reform group, in a statement, He adds, “[W]e are years behind in the race to create a national infrastructure that can support the next generation of e-commerce, e-government, health and education technologies, and much more.”

Will Internet prices come down?

Others suggest that allowing an open access network, which would give third-party service providers access to Google's fiber optic lines, eventually will bring down Internet prices, thus lowering a significant economic barrier to high-speed connections.

“Ultrafast and open broadband will not only provide a new and exciting platform for the next generation of Internet services and apps, but will hopefully inject new life into the extinct third-party ISP marketplace,” said Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, said in a statement.

Google has been acquiring fiber-optic lines for several years, PC World points out, and has developed relationships with companies that build the fiber infrastructure.

“Google certainly isn’t the first to do this,” according to PC World writer Mark Sullivan, noting that Utopia Network covers 18 cities in Utah under the same model.

“The big ISPs worked feverishly in the Utah state legislature to stop the Utopia Network in its early days. But the network got built, and has been active for years,” he writes.

Verizon has poured a reported $23 billion into its FiOS network, which connects fiber lines into the homes of customers. Google has not said how much it plans to spend on the new network.

All eyes on Google

The telecom industry will be watching Google’s trial with great interest.

"We look forward to learning more about Google's broadband experiment in the handful of trial locations they are planning," said Brian Dietz, spokesman for the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, in a statement. "The cable industry has invested $161 billion over the past 13 years to build a nationwide broadband infrastructure,” he said, and will continue to improve “speed and performance.”

But experts say that as Google steps farther into telecom's territory – it already sells its own mobile phone – Internet providers will scramble to keep pace. One analyst told Bloomberg that if Google begins offering a gigabit per second, “it would show that anybody with fiber can do the same thing.”


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