Google made quite a scene back in 2010 when the company announced it would be bringing an insanely fast one gigabit per second internet connection to one lucky American city. Hopeful municipalities promptly lost their collective dignity, renaming everything from their cities to their firstborn children in an attempt to catch the internet giant’s attention. In the end, Kansas City won out, and residents began receiving the service last summer.
This past week, Google announced it will be expanding its lightning-fast fiber optic internet to the nearby city of Olathe, albeit with much less spectacle. "Another city in the Kansas City area is getting the chance to join the growing Silicon Prairie," declared Rachel Hack, Google Fiber’s community manager.
Google Fiber currently offers Kansas City residents a number of very impressive options. For $70 a month, subscribers receive a 1 gbs internet connection as well as one terabyte of Google Drive space; $50 more gets you access to Google TV, 1 TBs of DVR storage, and a Nexus 7 tablet for a remote. For the budget constrained, you can get up to five mbps of free internet for a one-time $300 construction fee.
At the time, all indications were that Google wasn’t seriously planning to expand into the internet service providing (ISP) business. Initially, Google Fiber was something of a publicity stunt, created to "shame" other ISPs over the state of high speed internet in the United States. A recent study highlights the problem, placing the U.S. 26th in broadband speed, behind not only South Korea and Taiwan, but Bulgaria and Lithuania.
Google’s experiment in Kansas undeniably demonstrated that superfast internet is well within our grasp. Google’s motives may not be entirely altruistic, as faster internet means more searches means more traffic for Google. But regardless of potential profit, Google’s point has been made. Seattle is partnering with Gigabit Squared to launch its own super high speed internet, eventually with one gbs WiFi, and the FCC has called for gigabit internet in every state by 2015.
On the other hand, the big name ISPs appear to have been unfazed by Google’s efforts. Although providers like Verizon and Comcast have warmed to the idea of fiber optics, but they still fall short of Google in speed, price, and availability. Verizon’s Quantum tops out at 205 mbps for $209 each month, while Comcast will give you 305 mpbs for the tidy sum of $299.95.
This brings us back to Olathe. While Google’s original intention may have been to draw attention to the current state of our digital infrastructure, the company seems to have changed its mind since then. In December, Chairman Eric Schmidt declared that Google Fiber "isn’t just an experiment, it’s a real business and we’re trying to decide where to expand next." Rachel Hack confirmed this sentiment more recently, saying "Hopefully, this is the first of several announcements that we’ll be able to make about bringing Google Fiber to additional cities in the Kansas City metro area; so stay tuned."
In light of these comments, it’s looking more and more like Google is serious about entering the ISP business. Even so, Google seems to be taking it slow. Unless something changes, most of us outside of Kansas shouldn’t expect to download out movies in seconds anytime soon. But in a market lacking competition, Google’s usual quality and style may very well present a serious challenge to the ISP status quo.