WASHINGTON, February 10, 2010 – Google shook up the broadband world on Wednesday with the announcement, on its blog, that it plans to offer super-fast broadband, at speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second, to up to 500,000 homes.
Google framed its entrance into the marketplace to deploy fiber-optic services as a “testbed” to understand more about the way that consumers and businesses use internet applications when truly high-speed services are available.
“We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections,” said Minnie Ingersoll and James Kelly, project managers at Google. “We plan to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.”
“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,” the post continued. “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.”
Additionally, Google said wanted to understand and share lessons about the deployment of fiber-to-the-home networks, and that Google’s fiber networks will be “open access” network.
That last point puts Google’s approach to broadband on a collision course with the major network providers, including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications, who oppose Google’s efforts to impose “network neutrality” rules upon broadband providers.
Reactions from Carriers and the FCC
Major broadband providers, including Verizon and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, downplayed the significance of the announcement.
“The internet ecosystem is dynamic and competitive, and it’s delivering great benefits to consumers,” said Verizon spokesman David Fish. “Google’s expansion of its networks to enter the access market is another new paragraph in this exciting story.”
“We look forward to learning more about Google’s broadband experiment in the handful of trial locations they are planning,” said Brian Dietz, vice president of communications for NCTA.
“The cable industry has invested $161 billion over the past 13 years to build a nationwide broadband infrastructure that is available to 92 percent of U.S. homes, and we will continue to invest billions more to continually improve the speed and performance of our networks and provide tens of millions of consumers with the best possible broadband experience,” he said.
Other officials, including Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, were more effusive: “Big broadband creates big opportunities,” Genachowski said in a statement.
“This significant trial will provide an American testbed for the next generation of innovative, high-speed Internet apps, devices, and services,” Genachowski continued. “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.”
Google’s entrance into the fiber access market comes at time that the Obama administration is in the midst of handing out checks, as part of its $7.2 billion broadband stimulus, to help build broadband into unserved and underserved communities. Fiber-optic services are among the major beneficiaries, among the projects announced thus far.
Additionally, the FCC’s broadband plan is being finalized, and is due to Congress on March 17.
In a separate post, Google Washington Telecom and Media Council Rick Whitt said that the announcement built its recommendation, as part of the FCC’s national broadband plan, that the agency “should build ultra high-speed broadband networks as testbeds in several communities across the country, to help learn how to bring faster and better broadband access to more people.”
Whitt said, “We thought it was important to back up our policy recommendation with concrete action, so now we’ve decided to build an experimental network of our own.”
Whitt also compared the project to Google’s advocacy for free Wi-Fi networks – including its own, public, Mountain View, Calif.-based network – as well as seeking “open access” within the 700 Megahertz band of radio frequencies, and seeking to pipe broadband over the vacant television channels currently allocated to television broadcasters.
“We plan to incorporate the policies we’ve been advocating for in areas like network neutrality and privacy protection,” said Whitt. “Even on a small scale, building an experimental network will also raise other important legal and policy issues, from local environmental law to rights-of-way, so we’ll be working closely with communities, public officials, and other stakeholders to make sure we get this right.”
Many non-profit groups also praised the announcement.
“Google’s proposed experiment with building ultra-fast, open broadband pipelines in a handful of communities follows a trail already blazed by Verizon’s FiOS network, which has fiber optic cables capable of speeds comparable to what Google proposes,” said Ben Scott, policy director for Free Press.
“The FCC should use these examples to set forward-looking goals for the future of broadband throughout the United States. In the coming years, all Americans should have access to a world-class broadband network,” said Scott.
Markham Erickson, Executive Director of the Open Internet Coalition, stated: “An 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.” Google is also a member of the coalition.
“Google’s fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network sets a new standard for speed and transparency,” said Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Initiative of the New America Foundation.
“The network should have open, symmetrical architecture that facilitates high-speed communication for users within the network, including schools, hospitals and the local government and data collection to spur Internet research,” said Meinrath. “The benefits of one Gigabit-per-second connectivity are not maximized simply by getting data in and out of the community, but by creating vibrant digital commons that supports applications, resources, and communication within the local network.”
There are strong operational ties between Google and the New America Foundation. Eric Schmidt, the Chairman and CEO of Google, is also Chairman of the New America Foundation, and has given more than $1 million to the non-profit group.
Additionally, the foundation is one of the key players in the Measurement Lab consortium, founded by Google, New America and PlanetLab at Princeton University.
Measurement Lab was launched in 2009. Like the BroadbandCensus.com speed test and user-generated survey, Measurement Lab allows individuals to diagnose their internet connections using Internet2’s open-source Network Diagnostic Tool.
Independent observers also praised the Google fiber initiative.
“One of the really tremendous impacts of Google’s announcement is that it hopefully transforms our national conversation,” said Joanne Hovis, president of Columbia Telecommunications Corp. “When a company of this stature, that understands technology the way Google does, establishes a symmetrical Gigabit as the standard for broadband all the way to the home and business, it hopefully enables a broader conversation about the need for big bandwidth.”
Hovis continued: “Other than the open municipal fiber-to-the-home networks, this is the first significant foray into open access over fiber, and will serve as an incredibly important demonstration of the technical and financial feasibility of enabling competition through openness.” CTC is an engineering company that has supported a number of fiber-optic developments.
Said Danielle Coffey, vice president of government affairs for the Telecommunications Industry Association: “TIA members, and the public, will surely benefit from Google’s initiative. As the manufacturers and suppliers of broadband platforms and broadband-enabled products and services, we are pleased to see added competition and increased investment in our nation’s next-generation infrastructure.”
Tonya Rideout, acting executive director of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, also praised the initiative: “NATOA and its members are pleased to see Google’s significant commitment to working with localities to take steps toward solving the nation’s broadband deficit.”
“Having provided high quality, high speed Internet service to Rural America for the past five years, IBEC applauds Google’s recognition that rural America needs and wants optimum, high speed broadband service,” said Alyssa Clemsen Roberts, government affairs coordinator for the International Broadband Electronic Communications, Inc., which provides broadband over power lines.
“IBEC continues to strive to provide more access at higher speeds and we look forward to working with Google and other technology leaders in serving rural America,” she said.
As part of its announcement, Google issued a formal Request for Information from local communities, and from individual residents. The internet giant seeks to enlist local officials and individuals in selecting the communities that will be the recipients of the Google Gigabit networks.
Responses may be offered to Google until March 26, 2010, and the communities that Google selects will be announced later this year, said Google.