Google has announced it is going to build a real broadband network in the US, to test ultra-high speed applications and networks. They intend to provide service to at least 50,000 and possibly up to 500,000 people. It will be a fiber to the home network with speeds over 1 gigabit/second.
That’s way, way, way faster than anything commonly considered ‘broadband’ in the US. It’s on par with speeds residential users can get in parts of the most advanced broadband nation in the world – Japan. If you dig statistics and want to see how pathetic the broadband situation is in the US, the OECD has a ton of numbers on this topic.
Google is going to build this as an open access network. That means they will own the fiber but they will share access to that fiber with many ISPs. Users will be able to sign up for service with an ISP of their choice, which will then presumably handle all billling and pay Google a share of proceeds for the use of the fiber.
DSL used to be operated in a similar way in the US. That changed when our regulators and legislators rolled over and allowed incumbent telephone companies (Verizon and co) to kill off most of the companies they had to share phone lines with. The incumbents did that largely by pricing the alternative ISPs (CLECs) out of business: they charge them higher wholesale prices than what they charge their own DSL end users.
The difference with other countries is stark. The countries where open access is mandated by law and heavily regulated so that the company that ‘owns’ the cable can not abuse its position tend to have far higher availability of high-speed connections, at a fraction of the cost per megabit that is common in the US.
So, assuming that Google does the right thing with this new fiber (as in, does not undercut or sabotage competitor ISPs that share its fiber), and/or regulators and legislators get the guts and sense to actually enforce open access on all access networks, this announcement is really good news for broadband competition.
Google’s looking for state, county and city officials who want their communities to participate in this project. Google’s also asking non-officials to nominate their communties.
Now, if they could be convinced to put that fiber in the ground in Somerville, MA…