Google Sets the Bar High in Kansas City

Carl Weinschenk

Google this week officially announced its ambitious broadband project, Google Fiber, that it has been building in Kansas City Mo., and Kansas City, Kan.

It’s an impressive piece of work that perhaps should be called VBB (very broadband). ZDNet offers an overview of what Google will offer: For no monthly charge and a $300 installation fee, residents will get 5 Megabits-per-second (Mbps) downloads, 1 Mbps uploads and unlimited data for a minimum of seven years. For $70 per month, users will get unlimited 1 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps) uploads and downloads and 1 terabit of Google Drive storage. Finally, for $120 per month and a two-year contract, subscribers will get the higher-level upload and download speed, Google IPTV service, a Nexus 7 tablet and other goodies.

On the surface, this seems like a drastic leap forward. A few key questions are raised. One, of course, is the stability of the platform. That’s true of any new service. It may be even more of an issue in this situation simply because of the drastic nature of the change.

Another question is whether the actual demands of subscribers will be great enough to justify the investment. This already is an issue. The ZDNet story says that for the offer to take effect, 40 to 80 people in a particular area must sign on. Thus, there already is concern about demand.

It's a subtle equation: The common wisdom is that given enough time, vendors and their customers will develop enough innovative products to “fill the pipe.” There always is a germ of truth in a cliché or in the common wisdom. In this case, the question is whether it will hold true when the pipe is enlarged to such an extent. And, even if it is, there is an ROI issue: How long will it take for the volume to reach the level necessary for everyone to thrive?

A third question — and all of these questions are dependent upon each other — is whether Google will deploy the platform in other areas. The Christian Science Monitor implies that replicating the Kansas City project is not a given:

The service is intended as a showcase for what's technically possible and as a testbed for the development of new ways to use the Internet. Bypassing the local cable and phone companies, Google has spent months and an unknown amount of money pulling its own optical fiber through the two-state Kansas City region.

A paragraph in the story by CNET's Marguerite Reardon on the project alludes to both the question of future deployments and the uncertainty over application development:

Google hasn't said yet whether it will deploy a fiber network in any other cities. The company is focused on Kansas right now. But it's clear that the deployment is strategic for Google. Even though most users today don't need Internet access at 1Gbps, Google is showing what's possible. And the company hopes that applications and uses for the ultra fast network will evolve to fill the pipe.

These all are important issues. At the highest level, however, it is clear that progress always moves forward. It is fair to say that Google has planted an important stake in the ground. How quickly the rest of the industry moves to the level that Google has at least announced is unclear. It even is unclear if Google will commercialize the platform. But the setting of the bar is important in and of itself. At the end of the day, it is likely that the challenge will be met — sooner or later.

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