Google Fiber Issues Public Challenge: Get Up To Speed!

Google's Kansas City broadband project is designed to shame the top US cable and telecom giants. Why is the U.S. ranked 28th in broadband speed?

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TIME Photo-Illustration; Sign: Getty Images

Google is set to install super-high-speed Internet broadband service in 180 Kansas City neighborhoods.

Six years ago this month, Google moved into one of the largest buildings in New York City. Google had only been public for two years and its stock price was soaring. By 2006, speculation was running rampant about Google’s ultimate goals. In addition to building the world’s largest Internet search engine, Google was furiously buying up so-called “dark fiber,” the unused long-haul underground cable left dormant by the dot-com crash.

When Google moved into 111 Eighth Avenue, the former Port Authority building, New York took notice because that giant facility is one of the most important “telecom carrier hotels” on the East Coast. A “telecom carrier hotel” or colocation center, is a major physical network node that allows tech and telecom firms to share space in proximity to improve network service and speed. There are just a few dozen in the U.S. (Here’s one in Los Angeles.) As it happens, 111 Eighth Ave. sits directly on top of the point where the critical Hudson Street/Ninth Avenue fiber highway turns right, before heading north-east toward the Upper West Side. In New York City, fiber-optic cables are bundled together in large clusters that snake underneath the sidewalk.

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So why was Google buying up all that “dark fiber” and situating itself on top of key points in the nation’s telecommunications grid? Did the still-young technology juggernaut have designs on becoming an actual internet service provider? (Ultimately, Google bought 111 Eighth Ave. for $2 billion.)

On Thursday, six years later, we got our answer. And it’s still no. Google’s goal, by building the fastest city-wide broadband network in the country, is not to compete with the giant national cable and telecom firms. Rather, it’s to shame these legacy giants, including Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T, and others into improving U.S. Internet performance. Why is that important to Google? Because the more people who use broadband Internet, at faster speeds, the more Google searches get executed, and the more money Google makes. So think of Google Fiber as a kind of proof-of-concept public-shaming that Google is performing in the heartland of America, demonstrating to the country — and the world — that better Internet performance is possible.

(MORE: Will Google’s Insanely-Fast Kansas City Network Shame U.S. ISPs?)

After eight months of scoping out Kansas City, Missouri (including the smaller Kansas City, Kansas; henceforth referred to as Kansas City), Google announced the list of 180 neighborhoods — or “fiberhoods,” in the company’s geek vernacular — that have been approved for the experimental service. (See the construction schedule here.) According to Google, “residents in 89% of Kansas City, Kan. and central Kansas City, Mo.” are eligible to receive brand-new broadband Internet service online speeds of 1 gigabit per second — roughly 100 times faster than the average U.S. connection.

As you might imagine, there was massive demand for Google’s new service. The first neighborhood to be hooked-up will be Hanover Heights in Kansas City, Kan. As Google Fiber project lead Kevin Lo explained on the tech giant’s blog Thursday, “Hanover Heights was the very first fiberhood to qualify (within two hours of our July announcement), and they kept up the momentum over the six-week rally, pre-registering the highest percentage of households in Kansas City, Kan.”

The Mountain View, Calif-based tech giant is offering three tiers of service. Google’s baseline KC fiber install fee is $300, or $25 per month for 12 months. After paying that amount, Kansas City residents can expect a guaranteed seven years of free broadband Internet service at current national “average” speeds (5Mbps download, 1Mbps upload speed; no data caps), a company spokeswoman told me Thursday. You pay $300, and Google is guaranteeing you broadband Internet for at least seven years — for free.

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For the upper two tiers, the $300 install fee is waived, and the pricing is simple. For the second tier, it’s $70 per month for the super-fast Internet service (one gigabit upload & download; no data caps), and for the top tier, the cost is $120 per month. The latter includes Google’s TV service — the company has struck deals with popular channels like Disney’s ESPN — as well as a bevy of new Google hardware products, including a Nexus 7 tablet, which serves as the remote. (No worries, Time Warner Cable is not stressed — yet.) Time Warner Cable spokesperson Justin Venech told Bloomberg that the company is bucking up for this fight. “We have a robust and adaptable network,” Venech told Bloomberg in an e-mail. “We are confident in our ability to compete.”

(MORE: Google Takes Another Experimental Step Toward Delivering TV)

“One gigabit connectivity will have an immediate impact on our users—the web will be faster, TV will be clearer, and uploading and downloading will be super speedy,” Google’s Lo wrote in the blog post. “Not only that, but we fully expect that gigabit speeds will lead to a wave of online innovation, led by Kansas City.”

After the company’s blog posting was published Thursday, I spoke to Google’s Jenna Wandres, who’s an associate on the Google Fiber communications team. She told me that Google is working with the University of Kansas Medical Center, and local public schools to wire up the community. One of the tests that Google, working with local partners, will conduct, is high-definition “telemedicine” trials, where medical professionals try to simulate the in-person doctor-patient interaction remotely. Another test involves piping HD advanced placement (AP) classes from schools in the community where they are taught, to those where they aren’t, she said. Wandres said that Google does not know how many potential broadband subscribers it might reach, if its program is successful.

As Google’s sign-up period for its Kansas City fiber service neared conclusion over the last few weeks, leading up to Thursday’s launch, the issue of the digital divide came into sharp relief. The first and most enthusiastic buyers for the program came from the more affluent neighborhoods in Kansas City, where residents can better afford the $300 install fee, and the higher tiers. In an interesting and impressively transparent socio-economic demonstration, Google actually charted each neighborhood as it passed the percentage threshold for high-speed broadband service confirmation. As you might expect, the city initially was divided by a central thoroughfare — the proverbial “railroad” tracks — Troost Avenue, the city’s “historical socioeconomic and racial dividing line,” according to Wired.com.

On one side, buy-in was high, and the other side, it lagged. Needless to say, knowing the company’s history, culture, and founders, the idea that Google would be an unwitting contributor to the digital divide was not something it could accept.

So what did Google do? It deployed a “field team” of 60 employees to canvas the ground in under-served areas, working churches, community centers, and schools, to spread the word about its new service. Their sole job was to get out into the community. What the team found was shocking. A full one-quarter (25%) of the respondents surveyed by the Google team in these areas said they did not have broadband access to the Internet, according to Google spokeswoman Wandres. And they don’t have dial-up either. It turns out that there a substantial portion of the Kansas City community that doesn’t have Internet access at all.

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“Many of these people said, ‘I don’t have Internet because it’s not relevant to my life,” Wandres told me. Google hoofed-it out there into the Kansas City neighborhoods — not just to spread the gospel of its own super-fast experimental service,  but to argue the benefits of the Internet itself. “We’re committed to addressing the digital literacy and relevance problem head on,” Wandres said. “We’ll have micro-grants available for community organizations who want to start up digital literacy programs in Kansas City.”

During an election year, it’s not surprising that even a relatively innocuous topic like providing faster, cheaper Internet access to a major American city becomes politicized. Last week, per Ars, Republican FCC commissioner Ajit Pai released a statement praising the Google Fiber project as a “model for other metropolitan areas to follow.” Helpfully, Ars writer Timothy B. Lee pointed out that Kansas City’s support for Google’s network went “well beyond deregulation to outright corporate welfare.” As professional politicians bicker and grandstand about “who built what,” private companies and municipalities are getting on with it. Companies like Google and municipalities like Kansas City show us that the real “nation-building” starts at the local level.

What is Google Fiber about? It’s about serving notice to the existing U.S. broadband community, and vividly illustrating how badly we’ve fallen behind in Internet broadband speed competitiveness. Last time I checked, the U.S. was ranked 28th among developed countries in broadband speeds. That’s embarrassing. What the U.S. needs now is for private companies to work with public entities to build our information infrastructure, as Google and Kansas City have done. Remember, this is not about Google going national with a big broadband effort to compete with the likes of Comcast and Time Warner Cable — yet. Rather, it’s a reminder that building out our nation’s next-generation information grid is good for people, businesses, and society.

Wandres declined to comment on when and where Google will next choose to install super-fast broadband Internet access. In the meantime, here’s the Google Fiber video:

74 comments
hostingtavern
hostingtavern

I do not live in a very big city so it will probably be awhile before I can see these speeds. Charter has really been letting me down but it is still the fastest in my area, I can not wait to switch. Google has said they are not evil. When this is widespread I guess we will see if that is true.

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Rohit5
Rohit5

Internet is going towards ultraspeed, but yet to see significant improvement 

Michael Elling
Michael Elling

Shame on the federal, state and local regulators and policy experts!  We had 15 years of introducing competition in voice (long-distance), data (internet) and cellular (digital), but they all believed the monopolies again because it was convenient and easy to do so.  They lack a good analytical, policy and informational framework.  And they sold out 100 years ago, so they might as well not change now.

The Telecom Act of 1996, deregulation of special access in 2002 and death of equal access in 2004 killed competition in this country.  Bandwidth pricing disconnected from Moore's and Metcalfe's laws about 10 years ago and declined only 5-10% per annum instead of 40-60%.  The result is that bandwidth pricing, based on where technology currently is, is 20-150x more expensive than it should be.

Oh, and shame on the capital markets for doing bad analysis and thinking short term!  They love monopolies, but the latter do not scale each layer effectively and ultimately will be disintermediated.

duncancritters
duncancritters

How appropriate that I had to wait 30 seconds for the video to load, and the page froze in the process. Thank you, Comcast. 

Chorus: I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas CIty here I come...

duncancritters
duncancritters

How appropriate that I had to wait about 30 seconds for the video to start, the page freezing in the process. Thank you, Comcast.

Shinzakura
Shinzakura

My biggest fear is that Google spins GFiber off into a separate company to do ISP work, and one of the telcos/cablecos buys it just to shut it down.  I'm a conservative, but let's be honest - capitalism failed because the conglomerates aren't interested in playing fair.  As much as I'm not happy with it, maybe re-regulating them will slap some sense into them.

Though if Google does succeed at this, all the better.   I wish them luck.

Carson Green
Carson Green

I think the talk of Google going into the ISP business is completely overblown.  That's not what they're good at, it would cost a fortune and the return, while stable and predictable, is slow in coming.  

The 'shame the MSOs' argument seems like a stretch too.  Google isn't spending this kind of money purely with the hope of getting ISPs to offer faster speeds so that people can do more Google searches.

This is Ramp;D.  Google wants to continue to be your gateway to the internet for years to come.  To do so, they need to understand how people will use the internet in the future, when they have these high speeds.  I'd be willing to bet that Google will be logging traffic, with a team of analysts pouring over it to understand how people behave on a 1Gb connection.  This is about Google seeing into the future and trying to figure out how to stay on top as users change their behavior in response to increasing bandwidth.

f_galton
f_galton

I stopped using the internet 6 months ago, and I don't miss it at all.

Dwight Jones
Dwight Jones

Should have been assigned to the electric utilities along their right of way 30 years ago.

Kyle Nelson
Kyle Nelson

"After eight months of scoping out Kansas City, Missouri (including the smaller Kansas City, Kansas; henceforth referred to as Kansas City)"

Again, I'm sick of authors not doing their research. Kansas City, Kansas was chosen first. http://googlefiberblog.blogspo...

It was not until the following May that they decided to expand into the Missouri side. Please correct this discrepancy. 

KCK may be the smaller Kansas City but we were the first to get it.

MacDaniel
MacDaniel

Internet speeds will increase when congress gets off its rear-end and does something else besides bickering and brawling amongst the two parties.  All of the rest of the legislative back-log will have to get done first before this 'new' (for them) idea will get around to being considered.  FIRST, they have to get around to doing what they were voted into office to do - legislate!  So much for being only 28th!

Ant
Ant

"... Wandres declined to comment on when and where Google will next choose to install super-fast broadbad Internet access..."

Broadbad?

MacDaniel
MacDaniel

Internet speeds will increase when Congress gets up to speed on doing something more important than bickering amongst themselves about anything except themselves!  Good look on maintaining the 28% - it should get down to a much lower percentage before Congress gets off of its collective rear-end!

analyzethis
analyzethis

Let's see if they can make Time Warner respond right in Kansas City before they shame any cable co's in the rest of the country. 

FIOS right now offers a 2 year new customer deal with unlimited phone, 50down5up and tv for $110 a month.  I moved just as that was becoming available and now 22down1.5up costs me $169/month with nothing else included.

Raymond Chuang
Raymond Chuang

I think a huge problem in the USA is that because of the extremely uneven distribution of the population, installing very fast Internet access can be extremely expensive, especially out in rural areas.

However, I do expect as the  cost of hardware drops, we could see see Internet speeds on landlines go up dramatically. I wouldn't be surprised we'll start seeing 12-14 mbps for ADSL and 80 mbps for cable within the next eight years. I'd love to see Comcast start to replace their copper-based cable lines with optical cable lines, which may make 200+ mbps speeds possible for the norm. Only one problem though: you'll need to get a wireless router capable of handling at least 300 mbps through 802.11n Wi-Fi, and those are generally not cheap.

Ed_Luva
Ed_Luva

I agree that the answer to the riddle lies in the fact that the incentive structure is holding us back. Capitalism can be hyper-productive or can retard improvement--it all depends on incentive structure. Cellphones show how fast corporate entites can move when they have to. So, the only real question to ask is, how do we light a fire under the old guard that continues to let us down when it comes to Broadband?

I like the idea of a winner-take-all system wherein a competitor company that is voted in by the jurisdiction at issue may assume the contract of a slacker company that currently holds the contract. That way, if you have a jackass, underperforming telco, Google can takeover the contract and the people do not have to suffer 2nd class anything. Trust me, the old guard would get their act together double quick. Or, Google could offer estimates to cities, who could then issue bonds to cover digital infrastructure, cutting out the big boys all together. I like that sort of public/private partnership.

sam lidester
sam lidester

"You pay $300, and Google is guaranteeing you broadband Internet for at least seven years — for free"

Please remove "for free." It's not for free, it's for $300. You just said so.

spicoli73
spicoli73

Remember FIOS?  Now Verizon is almost bankrupt.  Sure Google is trialing this in a couple of small communities in Kansas.  The cost to do fiber to the home is astronomical, and it wont be coming soon, from Google or anyone anytime soon. 

Mansgame
Mansgame

soooo what happens if you're in an apartment and you pay the $300 and then move?  

Kevin Rhodes
Kevin Rhodes

I was recently explaining to a friend of mine how far behind our Internet speeds are relative to other industrialized nations. Not to mention the cost, we pay more for slower speeds...monopoly, nah, got nuthin' to do with it. I saw that TelMex response, exact same concept. Why would Slim invest all that money in infrastrucure if he doesn't need to?

Chuck Doofé
Chuck Doofé

This really needs to work. It's insane how stagnant ISP speeds are in America. There's no reason anyone should have to pause a 2 minute long video to wait for it to load.

IonOtter
IonOtter

Google can't "shame" the others into improving their network.

 The whole Wilson NC / Greenlight fiasco proved to the entire world that the big telcos DNGAF about the customer, all the care about is money. 

The town of Wilson, NC asked Time Warner and Embarq if they would bring high-speed to their town, but were told no.  So they rolled their own; municipal fiber to the house network.  All of a sudden, TW, Embarq *and* Verizon all filed suit for interfering with the free market.  The town said, "Okay, will you bring high-speed here?"  And the big-three all said "Nope."  Again.

The case went to court, the big three lost and Wilson gave them the finger and kept building.  The big 3 tried to file suit again, saying that they'd bring high-speed to the town, but it didn't work.  Greenlight now has the fastest Internet service on the East Coast. 

And the big three gave up.  Once they lost the case, there was no reason to move into Wilson, even if it added competition to Greenlight.  Once they lose a monopoly, they don't care.

And because Google doesn't have any plans on becoming a provider, there's no competition.  So they move into one or two cities to show off what we could have.  Big whoop, DGAF, they have the monopoly, bye.

The only thing that could force them to improve is if Google became a provider.

Tomiko Komiko
Tomiko Komiko

Sometimes the lag isn't our fault, sometimes its the websites being slow as fuck.

Twirrim
Twirrim

It's not so much a question of faster internet = more queries, it's that faster internet allows them to do a lot more things with it.  New innovations, or expansions of typical office-network operations.

Just using an existing service as an example, Google Drive becomes a lot more useful for documents and collaboration.  Current internet connections have been growing (slowly) on download speeds, but even slower on upload speeds.

One of the things the service is pushing is also synchronous connections, where you can upload just as fast as you dowload.  About the fastest residential speed I can get here is 20Mb up/1Mb down (contrast parts of Europe where 100Mb down is the norm.)  On a 20/1 connection a 15Mb document will download in around 6 seconds, but take 2 minutes to upload.  That's just not practical for a lot of things that an internet connection could be used for.  Services like Skyping and similar are constrained more by the upload bandwidth than the download.

There are numerous examples of profitable municipal networks

springing up across the country where cities have been forced to take

matters in to their own hands and satisfy the existing demand for higher

bandwidth that the ISPs keep saying "don't exist".  Worse, the ISPs are

opting to pour money into legislating to stop municipal networks rather

than meeting the demand themselves.

By innovating slowly and doing the bare minimum, ISPs are severely holding back the US compared to other countries. It's a combination of other factors that manage to keep the US at the forefront of innovation with on-line services despite of this handicap.  Even though internet related services are still a young industry, they make up a not insignificant (15% in '09) proportion of the countries GDP, and it's still strongly growing.

REGEND
REGEND

We could have had fiber in our homes more than TEN years ago but congress and the telecoms wanted to drain every cent from copper and have us make the jump to wireless instead to continue to drain our pockets and use sub standard speeds.

Ezekial Shake
Ezekial Shake

the questions are:

1. why are current telecoms keeping US speeds low?

2. why hasn't FCC demanded they be increased?

iec
iec

Stopped reading when author provided no quote in the first section of the article to prove that this is Google's goal. Turning it into some kind of manipulative game to get more Google hits? Yeah, no, I don't think so. On current broadband, a Google search take less than 1 second to execute -- 1GBps internet would not allow for a much larger influx of Google searches. They are not trying to get more Google business through their domains with this, it is ridiculous that a Times author would make such a claim.

Carlos del Castillo
Carlos del Castillo

I wish Google did something similar in Mexico City to teach something to Telmex, the most abusive telco company where the fastest DSL service is 5 Mbps (in theory, never seen it that fast) and the bottle neck is even worse, there is no NAP where local carriers exchange traffic so almost always traffic has to go to the US and come back. This is holding back a lot of companies. DIA is crazy expensive, last time I checked it was around 2,500 USD per month for 10 mbps, that with a contract of 2 years. 

Even Cisco is afraid of talking bad about these guys, regulators are a joke, so only somebody with enough money and knowledge could do something about it just to set an example. Google please accept the challenge

Owen Iverson
Owen Iverson

this is where kickstarter and indiegogo and others would be great - get a lot of people to contribute a little bit to build out infrastructure that will ultimately make a larger difference than $300.

Ben Gaieck
Ben Gaieck

This makes me want to move to Kansas City.   I never thought I'd hear myself utter those words. 

Scott Horowitz
Scott Horowitz

this your post was 1 week ago...unless you're being sarcastic, which i think you are, how'd you post this article over 6 months ago when the article posted to Time.com on 9/14/2012?

James Wood
James Wood

 "A couple small communities in Kansas..."

you have absolutely no clue how big Kansas City is, do you?

LtWorf
LtWorf

Verizon is by no means close to bankruptcy, but you're right. tThey had to slow down due to cost of installs and market conditions. It is expensive but in the long run, its worth it.

Zoose Zeppa
Zoose Zeppa

The next person gets it for free for the remaining years.  But the $300 is only for the 'free' 5Mbps.  There is no upfront fee for 1Gbit or TV service.

wcg
wcg

This will be the only way to go. It's sickening that broadband is an artificially restricted resource. Towns or cities or even small communities will just have to build their own. The big telco's just don't appreciate how much bad blood they have with their customers. Any decent alternative would cause a mass exodus.

Stew M.
Stew M.

I think there's still a really good chance Google will eventually become an internet provider. When a company announces that it's not interested in entering an industry, it's pretty analogous to a politician announcing or telling the media they have no intention in running for the presidency. In both cases, its a strategic blunder to let your opponents know too much ahead of time. 

If Google announced that it was seriously interested in becoming a service provider, the other major telcos would immediately start looking for ways ( not saying that they already haven't.. ) to block their entrance to market or make it more difficult. It's much easier for the company to be "Ninja" about it.

madiele92
madiele92

 1. Because they don't want to spend the money on infrastructure and because of their monopolies they can charge what they please.

2. Because the FCC has been bought on this issue by said telecoms.

Jim_Satterfield
Jim_Satterfield

What they left out is that Google owns YouTube. Better speed means more people watching video and Google, looking at the future, thinks there is the potential for other services if speeds are faster and that level of service is more common.

dcornibe
dcornibe

@Ben Gaieck  I know your post is two years old, but no, unless you really really like their barbecue, there are other cities now with Google Fiber where you can find a good quality of life - Austin, Texas, for one (although you'd be adding to our already-insane traffic!).  BTW, one could argue that Texas barbecue is better anyway!

geopoke1
geopoke1

no you dont. i signed up for this and i have to wait a year before i get fiber in my fiberhood,

flubalubaful
flubalubaful

 I wonder how many internet start-ups are thinking the same thing... This could be the beginning of Kansas City becoming a thriving economical centre. Imagine being able to get 4 1tb lines into your office for £100 a month and free after a year, or upgrading and getting super fast 1tb speeds unlimited data for almost the same price  other isps charge for 1 line that can barely reach 3mb.

Sam Gustin
Sam Gustin

 Insightful comment Stew. Thanks for reading. S

mixit
mixit

Agreed. Why the hell does Comcast care if Google takes over 1 city? The rest of the US is still gonna pay for their shitty internet. At the end of the day, Comcast is a business and they'll make their decisions as such. They don't care if Google makes them "feel bad". The only way Comcast or other major providers will upgrade their networks is if they think their is real competition in the market. Right now, none of the major providers want to pay to upgrade their internet because it costs A TON of $$$. So for now they're all content to stay where they're at. Charging way to much for way too little because consumers have no other options. Isn't that illegal? Can we use Google as proof that they're essentially price fixing?

john_zorn
john_zorn

 I agree Stew.  $2 billion is a lot to shell out to "shame" companies (and that's just for the NY building, where they aren't offering the service.)  A Superbowl commercial could do it better, and for quite a bit less (though still quite expensive.)

There is a larger plan in the works, but all we can do is conjecture at this point.

Anarch
Anarch

 You tube, and Google hangouts and Google drive and Google docs and it might just be possible that the honchos at Google actually want to improve things for our country.  Kind of a stretch, but altruism does occasionally happen - if usually by accident.

Brandt
Brandt

I'll take the year wait for this....talk about a firstworldproblem.....

mixit
mixit

Wait, you mean 1Gb? because 1tb = 1Tb? = 1000Gbs.