Google has once again shaken up an IT market (this time the market for Internet service) with a plan for an experimental superfast fiber-optic network. The very best part of the announcement is the price tag to federal taxpayers: nada. Instead of lobbying Washington for a handout as an inducement to deploy new technology, Google is doing it the old-fashioned way — on its own.
The plan is nothing if not ambitious. Google says it will offer service to as many as a half-million customers at one gigabit per second, about 100 times faster than the maximum speed that the vast majority of residential Internet users can buy today. Two of the company’s objectives make commercial sense on their face: hastening development of bandwidth-hungry apps like 3-D video that may open new multimedia markets, and driving other Internet service providers to provide higher quality platforms for Google’s own content. The latter goal, incidentally, parallels Google’s goal in creating and marketing a high-end smartphone that showcases the virtues of its open Android wireless operating system.
There’s apparently a third objective, though, one likely to raise hackles within the telecom industry. The Google service will be “open access,” so users would be able to choose among different service providers buying bandwidth on the Google network. Now, to the dismay of the big cellphone networks, Google has been lobbying in favor of special open access rules for spectrum allocated by the federal government. And we have to wonder whether the company thinks open access is a way to be more competitive as an Internet service provider, or is just a means of stirring the political pot in Congress and the FCC.