In February of 2010, Google announced their plans to build their own network infrastructure to provide broadband internet access to residential customers. Google being Google, they began the announcement with the promise to create a network that could accomplish amazing things: “Imagine sitting in a rural health clinic, streaming three-dimensional medical imaging over the web and discussing a unique condition with a specialist in New York. Or collaborating with classmates around the world while watching live 3-D video of a university lecture.”
Google eventually chose Kansas City as the first of just a handful of cities as part of what they called an “experiment.” For $70 a month ($120 a month if you also want TV programming), Google provides residents of Kansas City with a 1 gigabit (1000 Mbps) internet connection along with 1 TB of online storage.
The speed is incredible: the average broadband connection in the US tops out at around 9.8 Mbps. Even in Hong Kong, perennial home to the world’s fastest internet, average broadband speeds are about 64 Mbps. So for a very reasonable price, citizens of the BBQ Capital of the World are enjoying average internet speeds about 100 times faster than their fellow Americans.
If you don’t know what you would do with all of that bandwidth, there’s also a 5 Mbps plan, which will cost you… nothing. After paying an initial construction fee of $300 (or 12 payments of $25), Google will provide you with free internet at today’s average speeds for at least 7 years. Google says they plan to actually offer the free internet indefinitely, but they had to include a time limit for legal reasons.
Since the launch of Google Fiber in Kansas City, Google has announced plans to expand Fiber to other cities. Construction is currently underway in Provo, Utah and the Google Fiber landing page for the Provo project has a list of qualified “fiberhoods” where the service will soon be available. Residents can sign up now to be the first to be connected when the service is up and running.
Fiber will also be expanding to Austin, Texas soon as well. The Google Fiber website also lists nine other potential cities where the service might move next, including San Jose, Nashville, and Atlanta.
It’s easy to get excited about super-fast internet, especially when it’s offered at such competitive pricing. But what does one do with all of that speed? Tech writer Farhad Manjoo wondered about this in his 2013 Slate column about taking Google Fiber for a test drive in Kansas City after the launch.
“I tried to stream lots of videos, and I even attempted to illegally download some movies. Those things worked perfectly well. And then I didn’t know what else to do. I had finally found the broadband nirvana I’d always dreamed about. So why was I so bored?”
Manjoo believes that the answer is that most people won’t know what to do with such powerful bandwidth other than download a few movies in an instant. Instead, innovators working on bandwidth-hungry applications like real-time 3D animation collaborative hangouts will push for Google and other internet providers to expand the more robust network infrastructure once they prove what they can do with it.