Google Fiber and Competition

It’s been pretty awesome to watch the roll out of Google Fiber.

For those who haven’t been following, Google is piloting a program to deliver gigabit internet service (symmetrical — equal speeds for uploads and download), starting with Kansas City and coming soon to Austin, TX.

This is important and interesting for several reasons: 1) the state of broadband access in the US is shameful, 2) the incumbent wired internet providers (Time Warner and Comcast) have divided up the US and essentially operate as unregulated monopolies in most markets, resulting in crappy + expensive service, and 3) gigabit service a game-changing 10-20x faster than the typical high-end cable service (which is 50-100mbit).

So it’s been entertaining to see everyone react to Google Fiber.  I love Mike Masnick’s coverage yesterday of AT&T’s bullshit response to gFiber coming to Austin (“Hours After Google Announces Google Fiber In Austin, AT&T Pretends It, Too, Will Build A 1 Gigabit Network There”).  See also: “Likely pressured by Google Fiber, Time Warner ups speeds, slashes rates”.

Maybe this is an argument that true competition is possible in the wired internet access space; I’m not sure.  Google has successfully negotiated unusually favorable terms in each of these pilot cities so far, which may make it hard or impossible to do this on a nationwide basis.

I keep coming back to the idea that it may cost as little as $100 billion to lay fiber to every home and business in the US.  $100 billion is certainly a lot of money, but it pales in comparison to the cost of other infrastructure projects.  To put it in perspective, that’s about the amount of cash that Apple has on hand, and about 8x Comcast’s 2012 profits.

I am intrigued by the idea that we (we being everyone that has an interest in expanding opportunity on and by way of the internet) could just raise that $100b and build the fucking thing.  Maybe it would take the form of a nonprofit utility-like company; maybe it could pile on to an effort like Google Fiber (with conditions about neutrality and perhaps wholesale resale); I’m not sure.  

But the one thing I’m sure about is that the benefit of symmetrical gigabit fiber to every American is incalculable.

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