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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Google Offering Fast Fiber Net: Madison, Apply Now!

Google continues its quest for world domination with a pilot project to build an experimental fiber-optic network. Their initial trial would serve 50,000, maybe 500,000 customers in various communities around the United States. Google says it will run fiber to the home for a "competitive price."

And what would you get for hooking up to the beast? Downloads at one gigabit per second.

What does that mean? My residential service from Sioux Valley Wireless, robust as it may be, comes in at no more than one megabit per second... usually more like 600–800 kilobits. One gigabit per second is over a thousand times faster than my current service on its best day.

If you're in Madison, you might be getting faster service than I. Midco's "Ultimate" broadband service gives you up to 50 megabits per second for $125 a month. Google's proposed network would still be 20 times faster. In other words, the hi-def full-length movie that takes Midco's highest-paying customers maybe 15 minutes to download could blast through Google fiber to your hard drive in less than a minute.

Jeepers—I'd be satisfied just to watch Hulu without pauses. Any faster, we'll be teleporting people through that pipe.

Google's idea is to install a super-zoomy network to support the development of bigger and better applications and more opportunities for everyone to profit. The first example they give is rich 3-D medical imaging and videoconferencing to help rural hospitals connect with faraway specialists. The possibilities for rural medicine, education, and commerce are as big as your imagination and desire for data.

Google isn't even trying to crowd out other providers. They want to build an open network accessible to multiple service providers. Google figures this pie is big enough for everyone to share.

Google is asking communities that would be interested in having the fastest community Internet in America to send them an e-mail and make their pitch. Um, Madison? I'm thinking getting the Google fiber network would be a really good idea. Let's do it!

I've forwarded the Google Fiber Request for Information to the Madison City Commission, the LAIC, and a member of the Lake County Commission. I've also submitted my own nomination for Madison... and you can too! Residents and community groups are welcome to nominate their towns for this project.

Google's taking pitches until March 26. Madison, forget doubling the lanes on Highway 34. Let's try double-double-double-double-double-doubling the lanes on our information highway!


  1. Where is this headed? Right now you can watch movies on LetMeWatchThis and other sites. Will all video move to the internet? What kind of applications need that much data xfer?

  2. Even high-def video streaming only currently requires 4-5 megabits a second MAXIMUM, but that will go up quickly when the next generation of high def comes around.

    But I think the main reason Google wants faster internet is for total web-based computing. With connections as fast as they are talking, so-called "cloud computing" would be possible with all programs and not just email or word processing. You could run any program -- games, video editing, protein folding -- without anything being installed or running locally on your computer. It is kinda hard to comprehend, but trust this geek: it is REALLY cool.

    Or I could have it wrong. But if Google wants people to have one gigabit connections, something cool will come out of it.

  3. OVRG (online virtual reality gaming)

  4. Kyle's on the right track, John. Cloud computing is a huge deal for the future of computing. Cloud computing means you would run Word, Excel, Photoshop, etc. from remote computers instead of your hard drive. Computers in the cloud are likely to be much faster than the CPU on your desk (those computers can also team up and work together); you just need a faster network to get the data from your keyboard to the cloud and back as quickly as your CPU can cover the few inches from keyboard to screen.

    (More on the cloud: Check out Nicholas Carr's The Big Switch—copy available at Mundt Library... after I return it today!) A high-bandwidth network like Google Fiber can have the same effect on computing that high-voltage transmission lines had on electricity. It used to be every factory had to produce its own electricity. Big companies had their own electrical engineers. When we got better electrical transmission lines, companies could stop spending money on power generation and focus on making more products and new products.

    Ditto with cloud computing. Right now, companies need their own IT people to wire their networks and manage all that hardware and software. Cloud computing removes a lot of that burden. Companies will spend less on hardware and software because they'll be able to access all of their data and applications through the really fast Web through relatively simple computers running nothing but Firefox or Chrome. Less money spent on in-house computing means more money to spend on innovation in their core products and services.

    Kyle and Stan have both pointed to heavy-duty entertainment uses that we could benefit from right now. There's all sorts of business opportunity as well. Maybe the question is not what one huge app requires all that bandwidth at once; maybe the question is how many more little apps could we run at once through such a fat pipe. It's like Lewis and Clark water: pump more water to Madison, and we could support another big ethanol plant... but we could also support thousands more residents taking showers and doing laundry. Google Fiber would allow us to host big Internet providers serving thousands of customers. We could host a big server farm for secure data backup miles from any major terrorist target; companies could upload terabyte-sized data archives in a couple hours.

    A faster fiber network would enable more users to do more of what they already do faster and more cheaply. It would also open the door to applications we haven't even thought of yet. It's like floppy disks: 15 years ago, a 1.5MB floppy disk seemed like a huge amount of data space. Now we carry 8GB thumb drives in our pockets (5000 floppies' worth!), and we find plenty of use for it (PDFs, spreadsheets, videos of class lectures, family photos, citizen journalism, and a whole lot of ripped CDs).

  5. Yeah, I've been thinking about it: like the old days of mainframe and dummy terminals. The user won't have to worry about viruses, loading software, changing sound cards, buying new hard drives, and trying to be a half geek. And good for businesses that struggle with network expertise. Most users will probably love it, but, Google becomes the big brother to trust with our data, to work out bugs, hold accountable for down time etc. Not everyone wants to let go of that much control. After they get us dependent (without sufficient competition) the subscription rates go through the roof. There's always a flip side. I'm happy with the way things are! CAVE

  6. And I'll admit, my eagerness for cloud computing is tempered by my self-sufficiency urge. Part of my push for alternative energy is about busting up the centralized generation model and getting communities to generate more of their own power from wind and solar. Do I really want to see computing go totally toward centralized power? It's a complicated issue, technologically and philosophically!

    But movie downloads in 15 seconds... mmm.... No more expenditures for in-house I.T. for lots of small businesses... mmmmmm....


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