This week, tech giant Google made it official: Google Fiber is heading to Austin. Residents of the hip Texas city will be the beneficiaries of Internet speeds of 1 gigabit, roughly 100 times faster than current speeds. In Kansas City, where the service launched last fall, the 1-gigabit service costs $70 per month. For $120 per month, consumers get Google’s TV service in addition to gigabit speeds. The company also offers seven years of free Internet service at current (5 Mbps) speeds, after a $300 installation fee. It’s entirely possible that Google Fiber could cost more in the future, but for now Google says it expects prices in Austin to be “roughly similar to Kansas City.”
Here are five reasons why you should want Google Fiber to come to your city as well.
Goodbye buffering: It’s the bane of Internet users everywhere. How many times have you been watching a video on YouTube or elsewhere on the Web, only to have the stream freeze up, forcing you to sit there like a chump while you wait for the video to resume? Slate’s Farhad Manjoo describes a Google Fiber demonstration in which a company official played five high-definition YouTube videos simultaneously without a hitch. Most users are unlikely to watch five videos at the same time, but the point stands: with Google Fiber’s gigabit speeds, say goodbye to buffering. And it’s not just YouTube: imagine being able to download a full-length, high-definition movie in a matter of seconds.
The price is right: It’s hard to beat free. Let’s say you’re content with your current broadband speeds and if you don’t want to pay for a gigabit. Google is offering at least seven years of free Internet service at current national-average broadband speeds of 5 Mbps, after a one-time $300 installation fee. Now, suppose you pay $60 per month for your current broadband service. That’s $720 per year, or more than $5,000 over the course of seven years. With Google Fiber’s basic service, you’re saving more than $4,700. Needless to say, this could go a long way toward making broadband service affordable in low-income communities, which, in turn, could help close the digital divide.
Prodding the competition: When Google Fiber was announced, many observers believed the company’s goal would be to shame the existing broadband giants into improving their offerings, by demonstrating that vastly faster service is possible in the U.S. Google insists that Google Fiber is a real business, not merely a shaming exercise, but there’s no doubt that the incumbent providers are paying close attention. In fact, just minutes after Google unveiled its Austin service, telecom giant AT&T announced that it too wants to build a gigabit network in Austin. Clearly, AT&T could have previously launched such a service, but it appears that it took the arrival of Google Fiber to prod the company into doing so. The lesson is clear: more competition means better service for users.
Health care uses: When Google Fiber’s Kansas City network was announced, the company said it planned to work with the University of Kansas Medical Center to develop the gigabit medical applications of the future. Imagine seeing your doctor remotely via a high-speed Internet connection. At a brainstorming session in Kansas City last year, officials at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics discussed how a child on a home ventilator “might be able to avoid a trip to the hospital if he or she can be seen by a physician via video conference.” The same could also apply to homebound or elderly patients, or others who face challenges with mobility, like patients with Parkinson’s disease. Other possible uses include the ability to allow doctors to share large files, like high-resolution photos of the retina, which are used in annual eye scans for patients with diabetes. The same goes for large files used in heart and vascular imaging.
Education applications: Students with broadband at home have a 7% higher graduation rate, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Correlation isn’t causation, of course, but Google Fiber’s basic service could make it possible for families in low-income neighborhoods to afford broadband service for the first time. Studies have shown that students with broadband at home study more, watch less television and improve their grades. Meanwhile, schools and universities across the country are experimenting with remote and networked learning. Teachers and lecturers could simulcast their lessons to a classroom across town — or across the country. Students could collaborate on science projects with their peers in other schools. And with the advent of 3-D broadcasting, imagine if students could inspect a visualization of the planets orbiting the sun in the solar system, projected right into their classroom.
The truth is that we still don’t know all of the innovative ways in which 1-gigabit Internet service will be put to use. Fifteen years ago, when most people still had slow, dial-up connections, many of the broadband uses we now take for granted would have seemed far-fetched. Video-conferencing services like Skype didn’t exist for the average consumer. Now, millions of people use Skype to communicate every day. Internet-based streaming services like Netflix didn’t exist. Today, millions of people use Netflix to watch movies and TV shows over the Internet.
What will the next generation of engineers and developers do with Google Fiber? It’s hard to say, because so few people currently have access to the service. But Google is laying the foundation for new, gigabit-based applications that haven’t yet been invented. “The gigabit is the future,” Kevin Lo, Google Fiber general manager, said in announcing that Austin would receive the new service. “At Google, we have always invested in the future of the Internet. When more people are connected, it makes our communities stronger.”