Is Google serious about deploying ultra-high speed broadband in one or more trial ultra-high speed locations in the United States? Hopefully, the search giant's fiber project, designed to bring 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) Internet to up to half a million people, at a "competitive price," isn't just another of its half-baked hobbies that gets shuttered after a short while.
Given the company's ongoing efforts, however, including the launch of its Google Fiber for Communities site that encourages common folk to take political action to spur development of speedy broadband, it seems that Google's fiber fetish is real.
From a business perspective, Google's interest in a wider Internet pipe makes sense. Better broadband means a larger online community, more Google Search users viewing more online ads, and potentially a lot more revenue for the company. So when Google asks fiber fans to support federal legislation that would require the installation of conduit (for later fiber deployment) in all federally funded transportation projects, there's a degree of self-interest there.
But there's self-interest everywhere, of course, and Google's argument for a federally sponsored fiber project--think of it as a Interstate Highway System for the 21st Century--is smart, particularly for businesses seeking new opportunities online. Today's hodgepodge of broadband services, including creaky consumer-targeted technologies like DSL, will lack the bandwidth and reliability to deliver next-generation capabilities including telemedicine and 3-D TV. And then there's a new generation of cloud-computing services and systems on the way, including Google Chrome OS.
Many critics will claim that the build-out of ultra-fast broadband is best left to the private sector, but where has that strategy gotten us thus far? The U.S. lags far behind other developed nations in broadband speed--26th place, according to one recent study--and the profit motive isn't strong enough for private broadband providers to lay fiber nationwide. Take Verizon, for instance. The company has no plans to expand its fiber-to-the-home FiOS service--which is very costly to install--beyond its current territory.
Google is right: Not only must the feds spearhead a national fiber campaign, but they've also got to take concrete steps to make it happen. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission's 100 Squared Initiative-- 100 million households with 100Mbps broadband by 2020--is a nice idea, but it's short on specifics. Legislation requiring conduit installation in federal transportation projects is a good start, and U.S. businesses should join Google in supporting it.