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As Austin readies for Google Fiber, here’s why you need a gig: even if you don’t think you do

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I was so excited by the prospect that my newly built home in Austin, Texas might get Google Fiber’s gigabit service, that I couldn’t sleep last night.

I felt like kid the night before Christmas, running over all the possibilities in my head and generally waking my husband up every few minutes to exclaim ridiculous things like, “This means our bandwidth won’t fluctuate when we’re watching Hulu at night!” or “I bet we could build some kind of video related IM, so I could be in the kitchen and ping you at work. It would just be always on! Hell, it might be streamed at the new higher than high-def, 4K standard or better if we’re doing gigabit service. OMG 4K!”

It’s no longer a question: Google (s goog) is bringing its Google Fiber network to Austin. I’ve confirmed it with sources and the brief publication of a post in the middle of the night by Google should assuage anyone else’s doubts. While I have no idea how far Google plans to extend its network, if it plans to model the roll out on Kansas City’s build out I just have to get my neighbors as excited about a gigabit as I am.

LGs 4K TV. Try to get that past your bandwidth cap.
LGs 4K TV. Try to get that past your bandwidth cap.

My husband’s willingness to humor my gigabit suggestions became less enthusiastic after midnight, but he pointed out what many people are no doubt thinking, “We won’t have to deal with Time Warner Cable anymore.” As a customer of Time Warner’s business service, he has had several bitter experiences. On the residential side I’ve been miffed by the price hikes (I’m paying $70 for 30/5 service) but content with the service. But as I sit here writing this post while streaming music via my Sonos and while my child watches Netflix, I’m well aware that even if the executives at Time Warner Cable may say that consumers don’t want a gig, I do.

And you should too. Heck, in Kansas City I’d pay the same price for a gig as I do now for something 30 times slower.

Broadband is making your life more fun. And better.

Broadband has undoubtedly made our lives better in countless small and large ways. Every time someone sends you a goofy YouTube video or animated GIF you’re taking advantage of the ever-increasing speeds ISPs have delivered. When I started accessing the web via dial-up modem, an animated GIF stopped a web page for loading for minutes. Yet, we waited!

Now people pop nine of them in a news article as a means of telling the story. Favoring visuals instead of text on web sites is a superficial change, but it’s part of an evolution to real-time video connections and maybe even ambient presence. It’s like Skype on steroids.

But there are more serious benefits. For example, a few years ago when my daughter broke her leg I wrote how awesome it was that the doctors in the ER could just email her X-rays to the pediatric orthopedist on call.

The on-call doc got to stay home and we managed to get answers faster and get my daughter back home. X-rays are big files, and we’re lucky the doctor had the ability to receive them. He’s lucky he didn’t have a data cap that would prevent him from — or charge him extra — for getting multigigabyte files.

And that’s one of the biggest repercussions of Google’s fiber roll outs. The more people who can pay $70 for gigabit service (or get 5 Mbps for free), the more pressure this puts on the existing providers to upgrade their networks and cut anticonsumer crap like data caps. But that’s exactly why more cities need these networks.

You don’t need a gig today, but you need one for tomorrow

You may be wondering why you, in particular, need a gig. The answer is that today you don’t.

I spend all day thinking and writing about broadband and even I have no idea what I would do with a symmetrical gigabit network inside my home. But we’ve gone far beyond the idea that the internet is just a fad. It’s the underpinning of the information economy. Right now our content is digital, and while next generation video standards like 4K will require 25 Mbps connections, the real reason you need a gig isn’t about video.

The internet today transfers digital bits, but it’s rapidly moving to the place where it will transfer physical atoms. Thus, it won’t be about information, but about physical goods. Things like Uber or same-day delivery are examples of this. You tell the internet what you want and it delivers it for you in real-time or at least that day. If you consider 3D printers and the evolution of on-demand manufacturing then the internet could bring you physical goods directly. You want a bracelet you see online? If you have a 3D printer, the company will send the file to your Makerbot and it will print it.

This stool may be the future of on-demand, custom manufacturing.
This stool may be the future of on-demand, custom manufacturing.

More likely, the company would ship the design as a file to a manufacturing partner near your home and they would print it. Then they deliver it to you or you pick it up. Take this outside the consumer realm to manufacturing and maybe you get a car part in a few hours as opposed to waiting a few days for it to ship. In medicine, better and faster connectivity opens up the possibility of custom, on-demand drugs. There are startups today offering biological research services via the web. It’s not so far-fetched to imagine your pharmacy stocking the raw materials and then getting a custom drug recipe from your doctor via the web, and having it manufactured on the spot.

Let’s say goodbye to the information age and embrace what’s next.

This is the future, or some variation of the future. The point is we don’t know exactly what we will need, but it will need connectivity. And while we have physical resource constraints, legal barriers and a lack of knowledge about how to pull this future together, we shouldn’t have to worry about our connectivity. For us to move beyond the information age we need to be able to take out ability to transfer information reliability and at low cost for granted. Fiber networks offering a gigabit allow us to take data caps, congested networks and service providers that don’t want to lose their triple play revenue out of the equation.

crystal ball colorful

Only then does the information age become something that’s a given. Something that’s so much a part of our fabric that we can move on to the next level of innovation. And that is why we need a gig even if we don’t know what we’re going to do with it.

We need it so we can innovate. So we can move beyond animated GIFs and into the next wave of interactive story telling. So we can take the ability to ship medical records to the best doctor, no matter where she is located, for granted and start working on custom cures that will help that patient.

With Google Fiber, Austin will get that chance. Every single person who gets the opportunity to sign up should. They should stay up late talking to their spouses what they want to do with unlimited connectivity. The information age was awesome, but now it’s time to see what’s next.

56 Responses to “As Austin readies for Google Fiber, here’s why you need a gig: even if you don’t think you do”

    • Hopefully on Tuesday, Google will share it’s plans. In KC it put up a web site showing people where it planned to lay fiber and then people had to sign up committing to the service. Google took neighborhoods with the highest percentage of commits and installed there first.

  1. Imagining what you can do with a 1gig fiber connection to the internet is the topic of the upcoming “US Ignite Application Summit”

    Stacey, are you or Om planning to attend?

    Since we have UT Austin on our doorstep, I’m wondering if 1gig application innovation may be something that they’re already researching (Bob Metcalfe, or other faculty members).

    • Ian Littman

      If you’re comparing rollouts, KC is a good place to look, I’d think. Which means that there may be parts of Austin that aren’t on the first round of rollouts at all (I really, really hope that my area is included; I’m south of Google’s HQ here, but not by much). And other cities than Austin will need to work with Google on their own to get GFiber.

      That said, Google has queued up a few more towns in the KC area for GFiber, among them the relatively large Olathe, which is a few miles removed from Kansas City proper. So Cedar Park, Leander, Round Rock, Pflugerville, Manor, etc. certainly could get Google interested enough to expand the rollout eventually, though probably not in the first round.

  2. Roland

    Every large corporate bandwidth provider wants monopolistic control of that bandwidth…except Google. Western Union locked up the telegraph system. Ma Bell locked up the phone system, until the Feds intervened. TV was locked up until small cable systems appeared. They grew big, and now they want to lock up video content. Aereo may stop that in some markets. But Google is the only large ISP that wants Net Neutrality. Because they aren’t an ISP, they are an advertising company. My worry: at some point, Google earnings will plateau. Trees don’t grow to the sky. Then they will look for new sources of revenue. I hope by then all ISPs will be Public Utilities, or else the cycle will continue.

  3. quiviran

    I think Google Fiber is great, although I will always wonder if every bit transmitted is going to be cataloged for future reference, but it worries me that everyone thinks they just need to wait long enough for fiber to happen for them.

    Everyone who is interested in these matters should make themselves familiar with the path that Lafayette, LA took to get fiber to the homes of their residents. In a nutshell, if the private sector, free market doesn’t see a need or a way to make money, citizens need to act in concert, through the medium of their government to obtain what they need. The country did it with water systems, sewer systems, power systems and roads during the early parts of the last century. Every municipality that wants to get in step with the future needs to get with the program and establish a public utility for fiber deployment. Their futures do not need to be held hostage to Googles timetable or Time Warners largesse. Go people, go.

    • I have a digital version of a CAT scan of my head that is multiple gigabytes.Yes, it’s a different file, but it’s also pretty large. Also when transferring medical data having non-lossy compression would be ideal I would think.

  4. at least this is being rolled out and implemented in various cities and states across america, us torontoians can only imagine such a thing…
    our “friendly” telco giants will never allow this to happen…

  5. Juan Roman

    Nice of google to go to Austin but in reality they should go to areas that don’t have any connectivity or only dsl.Maybe that would light a fire under some of these telcos who think 1.5 or 3 meg service with 256k upload is enough. Grateful that I can afford 105 meg service from Comcast and my kids have access to way above average broadand speeds. Hoping the google shocks and announces national rollout.

    • Ian Littman

      There’s a reason Google chose its first two cities for GFiber: the cities made it easy, and they had plenty of customers lined up. While I completely agree that many areas are in the Dark Ages with respect to broadband, going from 3M DSL to gigabit fiber (for $70 per month) would be a pretty big leap. Granted, EPB in TN did it, but they’re running a smart grid off the network.

  6. Jim McLane

    the existing up/down speeds are not the problem for average customers like me, it’s all the other stupid stuff Comcast gets away with because they have a strangle-hold on the market (and Verizon is just as bad with all its a la carte junk fees) whoever thought we’d get a bill for $250 a month for cell phone service? Competition is what spurs innovation, so go go Google!!!

  7. Args Barglearg

    I live in South Jersey, not far from Philly…Google Fiber should be available in our area by the time we have faster-than-light space travel and a non-poisonous sugar substitute…happy for you folks in civilization, though.

  8. farrellclan

    If you are a people person, one who looks at the eyes and facial expressions of those you talk to, you need at least 1080p real time, not compressed right now. If you think you can detect s flinch, a pulse on the temple that give away insincerity you need to teleconference without big pixels jamming your ability to assess veracity. 4xHDTV conferences would be even better. Just don’t let your sources hide their eyes like poker players while they attempt to bluff you into false conclusions.

  9. Before you get too excited, they aren’t going to give you a gig for everyday rates. I have AT&T fiber – 1 gig a block away and I get about 10 mbs at 5mbs rates which is nice. But if you want more bandwidth they will gladly sell it to you. I suspect Google will do the same.

  10. I want 1 GB as much as the next person – but the files for 3-d printing aren’t going to be all that large. It isn’t as though all the details have to be included in the file that gets transferred – all that is needed to print a cylinder is a mathematical description of the cylinder and the material it is to be made from – a file with a few hundred bytes would suffice.

    • Thomas, you are right that the files don’t need a gig, but if it’s going to become a real business, how would the company providing you the files ensure quality control? Having a video camera associated with the printer might be one way to ensure quality as well as maybe even enforce some kind of DRM. Of course, this is one random example that may never happen.

  11. Leelee

    I hope it extends into cities near Austin! The Google building is only 30 or so minutes away from my house but I don’t live in Austin. D:

  12. Charlie Barrett

    Right now my old computers and Wifi are the bottlenecks on Verizon FiOS.

    As soon as Dell, Verizon, and now Google speed things up, Bill Gates taketh away. He taketh away my memory, he maketh me lie down in green pastures and scream waiting for the hourglass to go away as my web page’s javascript loads those last two bytes.

    I could do better, but it’s been a few decades since I recited the Lord’s prayer.

  13. Mohamed

    living with my 8/1 here sucks.

    Reading your article, allowed me to take a moment and imagine what we might do with speeds such as the Gigs, and the endless possibilities.

    I can clearly see from your writing that you are pretty excited about this, and you infected me as well.

  14. Matt F.

    Wow living 10 minutes outside the second largest city of Fort Wayne, in Indiana having only a single Internet service provider of Frontier (Verizon DSL) with a max speed of 3M down .75 up; I am appalled at Comcast and any other ISP who refuses to expand for fear of loosing their television premium packages. Google Fiber needs a rapid national roll-out. Most if not all municipalities would foot the bill for better police/fire/municipal/school access on the basic infastructure and could then lease it to Google. This NEEDS to be done!

  15. Dylan Smart

    I agree completely with you Stacey. We know how bad current bandwidth providers behave, we know we need more bandwidth, and we all wish for it now. Go Google!

  16. Eddy P-Funk

    I’m still stuck with a horrible 1.5 Mb/s / 256 Kb/s DSL connection, and have been for the past decade or so. During peak hours, I get maybe half that speed. AT&T is horrible.

    • Other cities are doing their best to get gigabit fiber as well. Seattle and Chicago are working with a company called Gigabit Squared to make it happen. Sonic.Net is expanding its gigabit service into San Francisco. Chattanooga and Bristol, Tenn. have gigabit services and Verizon’s FiOS doesn’t offer gigabit speeds today, but it could if it feels like the demand is there.

      • Thanks for the “Chattanooga” shout out. I share your enthusiasm about “what you can do with a gig.” You briefly covered GIGTANK earlier this year. We’re ramping up for the second year right now and pretty pumped about it. If you have any awesome ideas or people who we should talk to, please let us know!

  17. Stuart Pierce

    To not be restricted to speeds of 25/4 would be amazing. I host my own in home web server for personal and research purposes and I know having bandwidth like that would open me up to an enormous potential of possibilities.

  18. For us to move beyond the information age we need to be able to take out ability to transfer information reliability and at low cost for granted.

    Hopefully, it will also allow us to improve spell/grammar checking as well. :)

  19. very nice thoughts. I wish I lived in KC or Austin for a day to try Google Fiber out. Until then I will have to be happy with my 30/5 from Comcast (which is really more like 27/8)

  20. Tony Shylo

    While it will take a long time for me to get this service in Springfield, OH I can’t wait until I can. I’d love the speed and want to leave the greedy ISP in the past. Keep up the good work Google.