Google pushes fiber

Google announced that it is going to wire a select few communities with gigabit broadband connections. This could be huge.

Something is wrong with broadband access in the US. It was ranked 15th in the world in 2008 on a composite score of household penetration, speed and price.

Google is setting out to demonstrate a better way, though other countries already offer such demonstrations. The current international benchmark for price and speed is Stockholm at $11 per month for 100 mbps. There are similar efforts in the US, for example Utopia in Utah. One of the key features of these implementations of fiber as a utility is that the supplier of the fiber does not supply content, since this would impose a structural conflict of interest.

Google does supply content, so it will be interesting to see how it deals with this conflict. I doubt there will be any problems in the short term, but in the long term it will be very hard to resist the impulse to use all the competitive tools available; “Don’t be evil” isn’t a useful guideline to a long, gentle slope.

OK, it’s easy to be cynical, but at least Google is trying to do something to improve the broadband environment in the US, and it may be a long time before the short term allure of preferred treatment for its own content outweighs the strategic benefit of improved national broadband infrastructure. And this initiative will undoubtedly help to accelerate the deployment of fiber to the home, if only by goading the incumbents.

I touched on the issue of municipal dark fiber a while back.

Muni Wi-Fi on the ropes?

Wired has a story about the struggles of several municipal Wi-Fi deployments. Turns out that good coverage requires double the number of access points than planned, and that consumer subscriptons were an order of magnitude less than anticipated (1-2% instead of 10-25%).

The article holds out a few rays of hope: 802.11s for mesh deployments in residential areas, concentrate on high-traffic areas rather than trying to replace fixed broadband access, get the cities to become “anchor tenants.”

On the other hand, there still seem to be plenty of lower profile metro Wi-Fi deployments that are doing OK.