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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

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”

  1. Scott E

    For a guy with only one option for broadband Internet connectivity, I’m pretty lucky. I live in the mountains in California and we have exactly three options for ISPs: 1) Dial-up. In this era suffering with dial-up is probably worse than not having anything at all (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/no_internet). 2) Satellite. From what I’ve read satellite ISPs have come a long way in the past ten years, but it’s still far too expensive for far too little bandwidth. 3) Charter cable. This is the only real option and why I know I’m lucky. For $55 per month (still too high in my opinion) I get 30 Mbps down and 4 Mbps up and this is the lowest speed they offer. They recently raised it from 15 Mbps down and 1 or 2 Mbps up and all I had to do was reset my cable modem. There’s plenty of capacity left since they also offer 100/5 (as the only upgrade option) using the same equipment but the price difference is around another $30 (though it’s been a while since I’ve asked and you can’t find the real prices online). Granted these are “up to” speeds but SpeedTest.net consistently rates my speeds at close to the 30/4 figures. (probably because of the small size of the community).

    Yet even though I know I’m lucky – just reading the other comments here reinforces that knowledge – I also hate not having any real choice. It’s only because Charter has to compete in other markets that I get the speed I get at such comparatively low price. If the cable monopolies were broken up so that any cable provider could offer Internet, TV, and phone to any customer in the US we’d have real competition that would make prices plummet and speeds skyrocket.

    The worst thing of all is that there are so many communities with no broadband option at all. The fact that our country’s political priorities put infrastructure near the bottom of the list of “things to fix” is a travesty and it drags our whole economy down further than it would be otherwise.

  2. You know I’ve read that in Japan, since they have these “Gig” connections, like they have game tournaments from the north to the south of Japan.. It involved Gundam I believe. As an avid gamer, it would be awesome to not have to worry about latency as much or at all..

    That aside, I have Time Warner, I pay 70+ bucks a month.. And I only get 10/5 .. Sucks. Youtube videos seem to buffer still.. and honestly I wish there was true competition at least at the local level.. So that innovation/competitive pricing would happen. As it stands though, I’ve got cable or DSL (windstream).. YAY! (Sarcasm)

    Windstream their plan of action seems to be buy up every legacy network they can, milk it for all its worth, send me junk mail saying cable prices are criminal.. well between a sorry service and a criminal that provides, I’d rather deal with the “criminal prices”.. but I do hate not having a choice…

    These dsl and cable companies do not seem to be thinking long term at all. Because whatever they do.. if they do decided to bring fiber to the home to people.. its going to take time to implement. Might as well start today.

    ..well unless you count moving. But that’s not a option for years…

  3. Richard Bennett

    The only gigabit applications anybody has thought up in the 20 years that gigabit networking has existed are things like the Star Trek holodeck. No form of personal TV even comes close; 4K is something that a competent 10 Mbps connection can handle. The attraction of gigabit links is the expectation that they would enable quality of service for applications that only need an honest 10 Megs. Another way to do that is to fix the Internet’s broken QoS model,

  4. Super excited about this coming to Austin! Last week I was trying to figure out what I could do about my crappy Internet connection. I just hope that they come out as far west as Steiner Ranch though!

  5. Fred Stein

    Hooray Austin, Stacey for great article and Google. Adding…
    On-line multi-player games – timing is everything to these players.
    And the according to the FTTH Council, Fiber is 20% cheaper to maintain for the operators, who needs a long payback period.

  6. The only reason for me to jump would be the anti-consumer practices of TimeWarner cable in Austin. I have been with TWC for 7 years and each year they will double prices for their internet. Their website will offer packages for 19.99 and 24.99 but old loyal customers never qualify for them (talk to their customer reps and they will tell you this exactly).
    I don’t need Gigabit but I hate TWC hegemony even more

  7. Ian Littman

    First, a shameless, but related, plug:

    http://www.meetup.com/Google-Fiber-NW-Austin/

    (I may rename the group so that we’re talking about the entire Austin area; we’ll see)

    Anyway…

    What types of things can we do with a gigabit? As someone who has used a university network with 60+ Mbps in each direction over WiFi and over double that wired (10G to the school, 1G to most Ethernet ports, but connectivity to the Internet at such high speeds is harder to manage), that question really hasn’t been answered yet in a residential context Other than maybe not having to wait more than a couple minutes while the latest copy of Creative Suite downloads. But that’s true on my 50M TWC connection.

    On the upload side, I had a 15 Mbps up connection in my apartment when I was in college (you can’t get that in Austin; Comcast > TWC for technology, caps notwithstanding). It was a marked improvement from the 5 Mbps up that I have right now, and the 1-2 Mbps that many use. And I could see a use case for 50 Mbps up; a 50 Mbps symmetric connection with good connectivity to the internet isn’t going to outpace servers like a gigabit would (so you actually get advertised speeds), but it still is a big improvement over what’s available now. So in answer to whether I need a gig, nope, and as a web developer it’s hard to even think in terms of more than 50 Mbps of symmetric bandwidth as to what I’d do with it from the content provider perspective. But 50/50 would be nice, I’m not getting that with TWC, I would get 20x that with Google, and Google’s less expensive than TWC for what I’m getting right now, so I’ll take it.

    One note about on-demand production/3D printing: the files I’ve seen for such things (The Pirate Bay actually has several such downloads) really aren’t that big. Megabytes, not gigabytes. My guess is that part makers haven’t caught on to that particular revolution in the making due to quality concerns on the one hand and IP theft concerns on the other (since knocking off a part would be as easy as copying a file that was relatively widely disseminated). Even with today’s connectivity prices (with no GFiber), if those two concerns were allayed, a connection good enough to share CAD/CAM files would pay for itself pretty quickly.