Oh my, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG, news, filings) does know how to make trouble don't they? Yesterday the internet giant announced it would delve into FTTH with a project to connect 50K-500K people to the internet at 1Gbps speeds. They are now looking for candidate cities and municipalities to work with on this project. Why are they doing this? It's a deliberately provocative move intended to make current broadband providers respond, and I think its effects will rock the access market far beyond the initial shock wave. For now though let's look at the immediate implications:
- Like many out there, Google is obviously displeased with the state of US access networks, and has no faith in the effectiveness of the government's efforts for spreading broadband. Remember last year when the definition for broadband got watered down to "anything that's faster than dial-up most of the time"?
- Google is trying to make a point about network architecture. In fact it's one that Dave Schaeffer of Cogent made to me recently. There are huge differences in both functional capacity and economic viability between building a broadband access network over a legacy vs modern infrastructure. It's far easier to do the former and that's how most broadband is done in the US right now, but we really need to do the latter to reach the kind of speeds everyone dreams of.
- Open access is about to get a very public demonstration. At the moment the argument over the viability of open access networks is a political one. References to actual economic viability are, frankly, either purely hypothetical or heavily extrapolated. Google wants open access networks, and they're willing to spend a large pile of cash to prove that they work.
- What would you do with a 1Gbps connection? No really... what *could* you do? Some out there are saying 'nothing' since there are no consumer applications out there that consume or produce data on that scale, but I'm going to wager that someone out there will figure out some way to max out that bandwidth within a month or two of getting it.
- Enlisting the public this way is brilliant. The public has been crying out for more broadband, and Google is clearly trying to access that discontent, mobilize it, and ride it. By calling for volunteers from mayors and municipal officials, they are essentially issuing a call to the public to tweak the noses of their ILECs and cable MSOs - and they will get lots of takers.
- While the access market is probably grumbling, backbone providers like Cogent, Global Crossing, and Level 3 are probably ecstatic about Google's move. That's because they are ready to provide the intercity bandwidth for 1Gbps access networks any time, any day, any place - if only that day would hurry up and get here.
The whole concept will likely never go beyond a demonstration project. As with so many of its efforts, Google is looking to use its size and influence to shape where the internet is heading so that it can make more money in its core businesses. To them it is quite simple: more traffic equals more profits, and therefore they will do what they have to do to enable the public to consume as many bits as possible. Once the internet is headed in the right direction, they will probably just back off.
This is obviously a developing story that will go on for a year or more. Just wait for the battle over whose equipment to use breaks out...
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