Google is expanding its rollout of Google Fiber, finally bringing America’s Internet up to speed (no pun intended) with other countries around the world. Amazing right? Well, If Google Fiber successfully kills existing Internet Service Providers, it may very well control the Internet.
Google continues to roll out its ambitious Google Fiber project to a few US cities, aiming to bring the fastest Internet and TV connection in the United States. With speeds of 1 Gbps, it is 100 times faster than the average American’s internet speed and 20 times faster than Verizon Fios. The Google Fiber project is still in its earliest stages. Late last year, Google built its high speed network in the two Kansas cities (in Kansas and Missouri). Google calls this an “experiment” and is still learning how to best install a physical network and then market the service. Just recently, Google announced its plan to move outside of Kansas City into Olathe, Kansas. Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google, cites unacceptably slow US internet speeds as inspiration for the project. He believes Google Fiber will create the infrastructure the country needs to once again be on top. This is perhaps THE MOST AMBITIOUS project Google has ever begun. Most of it’s projects involve developing apps and software that once completed, can be immediately released worldwide at once. For example, Google Maps, Gmail, Docs, and other virtual products only need to be developed once before they are instantly available to a worldwide market. With Google Fiber however, Google actually needs to do the work of physically running the fiber through the ground to every home that subscribes to it. This can get expensive. Goldman Sachs estimates that it will cost $70 Billion just to cover half the country. Because of the laborious and expensive nature of creating this network, it will be a long time before Fiber is available to you and me (assuming you don’t live in Kansas).
Let’s assume that two decades down the line, Google Fiber now covers the country and everyone uses this state-of-the-art technology. Now what? Sure, it will be nice to download an entire movie in a second. Sure, you will never have to wait for anything, and the term “loading” will effectively be eliminated from language because everything will be instant. This is all great, and I do want America to be the leader in all things technology and Internet related. I want America to have the best network infrastructure that can allow individuals and small businesses to do better. But will this near monopoly provide Google the opportunity to unfairly take advantage of its customers?
Sidenote: Let’s not forget how Google paid a $7 Million settlement earlier this month because their Street View cars illegally obtained personal data from local wifi networks.
Google already controls what we see and find on the Internet (through search) and how we browse the Internet (through Chrome). These feats alone has made Google synonymous with the term Internet in many people’s minds. Now, if Google can scale this project and own people’s access to the Internet, they essentially become the Internet and everything Internet related. Concentrating the power of the Internet (which by nature should be free and dispersed) into the hands of one organization is a bit unnerving.
I think this fear is rational, but this is only a very early warning. This project is extremely expensive and time consuming. The chances of it succeeding in the next few decades is still hard to judge, and many of Google’s ventures have failed such as Google Reader (which it will shut down in July 1, 2013). If Google does come close to scaling the project up from Kansas to the United States, regulatory controls may be put in place to limit Google’s power and protect consumers. In addition, other competitors may start building a network that rivals Google’s in due time. All are ways to stop Google from becoming a crazy control freak.
All in all, I’m not too worried. Though total control is unlikely, these initial plans of providing the fastest internet ever has me slightly skeptical of Google’s true intentions, while others are jumping for joy.