Google Fiber launched today in the two-state Kansas City region, as Google expanded from web and technology giant to broadband provider.
Google has spent the past few months and an as of yet unknown amount of money installing its own optical fibre lines through the region, and now it's going to begin hooking up households through Kansas City to internet connections that will provide speeds of up to 1Gbps – around 100 times faster than a standard cable modem.
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Customers will pay a $US70 a month for the service, and can choose to pay an additional $US50 per month for a cable-TV-like service over the fibre and a tablet computer that works as a remote. The cable television service will include channels like Nickelodeon, Discovery, Bravo, Starz, and Showtime. This is generally more expensive than standard US cable connections, but for the added speed, many customers are expected to think it's well worth it – the competition to be the district in which Google set up their fibre broadband was fierce, with one town in Kansas going so far as to informally rename itself "Google".
A slower internet option will also be an option, with a more common 5Mbps available with no monthly fee for households that pay a $US300 installation fee. The free service is guaranteed to be in existence for the next seven years.
Google announced their plans for Kansas City in a blog post by Google Access Services vice president Milo Medin today where they called other providers and technology companies on their failure to bring broadband screeching into the present.
While high-speed broadband in the 1990s was "revolutionary", Medin writes that "today the Internet is not as fast as it should be. While high speed technology exists, the average Internet speed in the U.S. is still only 5.8 megabits per second – slightly faster than the maximum speed available 16 years ago when residential broadband was first introduced. Access speeds have simply not kept pace with the phenomenal increases in computing power and storage capacity that's spurred innovation over the last decade, and that's a challenge we're excited to work on."
The Google Fiber project is a confirmation for Australia's own National Broadband Network (NBN), stressing the importance of high speed broadband and not settling for the "good enough" that wireless broadband can provide (which is, very often, not good enough).
Medin highlighted the importance of what a high-speed 1Gbps could do for customers: "No more buffering. No more loading. No more waiting. Gigabit speeds will get rid of these pesky, archaic programs and open up new opportunities for the web. Imagine: instantaneous sharing; truly global education; medical appointments with 3D imaging; even new industries that we haven't even dreamed of, powered by a gig."
Importantly, too, Medin highlighted the fact that we just don't know what will happen, and that's part of the delight of high-speed broadband connections. Shrieking "but what do we need it for" is contrary to the point – half of the joy of high-speed broadband will be in discovering what we can do with it. Medin said: "This is an exciting new project for Google and we can't wait to get homes connected to Google Fiber in Kansas City – because we're pretty certain that what people do with a gig will be awesome."
Obviously, the way Google are providing optic fibre connections to customers is very different from the Australian NBN model. Google will begin by offering a six week period in which Kansas City residents have the chance to pre-register for service; after that, Google will decide which areas have enough interest to merit them setting up connections in that area.
There has, as of yet, been no confirmation that Google will expand in other areas, or what exactly their end game in the broadband industry is. One hint may be found in Medin's blog post, where he said: "Abundance is better than scarcity. There's a plethora of rich content available online – and it's increasingly only available to people who have the speeds and means to access it. Choice is better than no choice. Competition and choice help make products better for users."
Very possibly part of Google's aim here is to encourage other broadband providers in the US to branch out and embrace the possibilities of fibre optic connections; or, they're just setting themselves up as the heroic good guys coming in to save a nation from stick-in-the-mud providers. Whatever the case, it's an interesting business model and one that will be well worth watching as Google continues to expand and as the cable broadband in Kansas City goes live.
Whether or not it would work in Australia, however, is debatable. A project to connect all of Australia to fibre broadband, as the NBN plans to do, would probably not be feasible for a private business: too much investment with no guarantee that the customers will then sign up with them. Part of the NBN's appeal as a federal project is that the economic boom that is expected to follow the NBN will replace the funds from Australia's economy that go towards setting the NBN up.
Additionally, Google is operating in a very small, densely populated area, and are only bothering to connect customers when enough people in their area voice interest. In a country like Australia, though, with a huge amount of space to cover and limited customers in regional and remote areas, it's clear that a big company might not consider it worth its time and investment, or simply might not have the resources to do so. Clearly this is a project that will work best when funded by the government.
Nevertheless, perhaps Australia can take some tips from the way that American cities fought over who got to have Google Fiber first installed. A fibre optic broadband connection is something to be celebrated and hugely desired, and the potential of it is something to be eagerly awaited. And in Kansas City, too, customers will be paying a much higher premium than some of the early plans we've seen released by providers for NBN connections.
It's definitely cool to see the rest of the world expanding in terms of high-speed broadband, and no doubt Kansas City will have their connections much sooner than the wait ahead of Australia. However, this may just be one situation in which we can tell Google – nah, keep it. We've got our own.
NBN-based connections are not yet widely available. For those who want to take advantage of great value plans with short or no contracts, we recommend:
TPG’s Unlimited $60 ADSL2+ Bundle (6 month contract) – Call 1300 106 571;
iPrimus can offer Naked DSL connections, with unlimited data, from just $69.95 a month - available on 0, 12 and 24 month contract terms. Call 1300 137 794;
Internode has a 200GB Easy Bundle for $80 with no contract, call on 1300 106 571.
Want to know when the NBN is coming to your area? Give us a call on 1300 106 571 and we can talk about that with you, along with what your options are before the NBN gets there.