What Google's High-Speed Broadband Plan Implies


Google plans to experiment with fiber-optic broadband it says will be able to supply 1-Gigabit-per-second Internet and outdo existing fiber networks in the U.S. Seeing as it's Google that's involved, the implications of Google's plan are at least as intriguing as the plan itself.

Does Google plan to compete with ISPs? Will Google become a 1-Gbps broadband carrier? Is what appears to be any effort for Google to advance the national broadband agenda actually the search giant's boldest, baddest business maneuver yet?

Google said Wednesday that it would run trials for high-speed, fiber-optic broadband in various locations around the country. The goal, stated Google product managers in a blog post explaining the plan, was to build better fiber networks that could not only offer 1-Gbps-speed Internet access but also enable app developers a platform for building top-of-the-line, bandwidth-intensive applications -- "killer apps," as Google's James Kelly and Minnie Ingersoll put it.

More specifically, Google said it plans to work with local and state governments to build the fiber networks, and that the networks will serve between 50,000 and 500,000 people. As Google pointed out, the project is not unlike Google's own Wi-Fi Network in Mountain View, Calif., which is open to the city's near-75,000 residents and provides 1-Gbps Internet access over Wi-Fi.

Google hasn't yet stated what it plans to spend on the new fiber-optic network and said it would announce potential test sites later in 2010.

Google skeptics would seem to have all the evidence they need to see Google's broadband plan as a bold business move, and that evidence is in various forms called Google search, Google Android, Google Voice, Google Chrome, the new Google Buzz, and the Google Nexus One smartphone. All of those products saw and are seeing Google attempt to upend various market segments as a disruptive vendor: choosing to market and sell its own mobile phone, for example, or challenging rival Internet browsers -- and soon, operating systems -- with Chrome.

Google wants Internet-driven products on its own terms, and it's willing to remake industry models that don't seem to suit its ambitions. How will the broadband plan be any different, observers wonder? Android and Nexus One were Google's bold challenge to the world of mobile. Is it not now issuing a similar challenge to the world of fiber and broadband?

Google has already gone on the defensive about perceptions that it will now attempt to compete with ISPs. Richard S. Whitt, Google's telecommuncations and media counsel, said in an interview with The New York Times Wednesday that the move should be viewed as a "business model nudge and an innovation nudge."

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, who will present the FCC's plan for national broadband to Congress in March, didn't seem too worried either. In a statement, Genachowski applauded Google's plan and said, "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, creative jobs and increasing America's global competitiveness."

Other industry observers had similar praise for Google, with some singling out Google's plan to keep the broadband pipe open -- one of Google's stated goals as outlined in its Wednesday blog post.

In a statement form the Open Internet Coalition, Executive Director Markham Erickson said, "We hope this will serve as an example to other network operators that the open model should not be feared, but should be emulated. Profit and openness are mistakenly seen to be in conflict; in fact we believe they are synergistic and amplifying."

As for the telecoms themselves, most executives are keeping mum, and no calls or e-mails were returned to ChannelWeb following several inquiries to various telecom companies on Wednesday.

The Wall Street Journal quoted one telecom executive anonymously, who said, "If this were easy, everybody would be doing it," and suggested Google doesn't have experience servicing broadband and maintenance needs for consumers.

That doesn't seem to scare Google in the mobile world, though, where despite ongoing customer service concerns, its Nexus One plans are full speed ahead.

Google's made its intentions to build a fiber network known. What'll be most interesting is what comes next.