Not content to merely challenge Internet carriers in the mobile phone world, Google is now challenging them in the fiber world as well.
Google Wednesday announced on its blog that is constructing an experimental fiber network that the company says will "deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections."
Google says the network will have three main goals: to foster the development of next-generation applications, to explore new ways of deploying fiber networks and to provide a model for an open access network governed by network neutrality rules. Google says that it will offer access to the network in "a small number of trial locations" and that it will serve from 50,000 to 500,000 people.
Google's fiber network proposal is somewhat similar to its decision in 2007 to launch its own mobile operating system, in that both initiatives reflect Google's willingness to use its clout to change how carriers operate. When Google unveiled the Android platform to the rest of the world, it was the company's way of pushing the mobile phone industry toward more openness and of fostering great application development. Because Android is an open source platform, it can be adopted by device manufacturers for free and can provide a no-cost platform for application development.
Similarly, Google's decision to release its own Nexus One smartphone was its way of trying to divorce mobile devices from specific carriers. So if AT&T were to begin offering the Nexus One, for instance, users could switch from their T-Mobile accounts to an AT&T account without purchasing a new device. Google hopes that this will lead to more carrier-agnostic devices in the future that will allow users to switch carriers without ditching their favorite mobile phones.
And now, with the construction of its experimental fiber network, Google is trying to push its vision for how the Internet as a whole should operate. With typical broadband speeds lagging behind those in countries such as South Korea and Japan, Google is seemingly trying to give U.S. carriers a kick in the pants by saying, "If we can build a network this fast that serves large numbers of people, so can you."
And what's more, the Google network will be open access, meaning third-party service providers will be able to use it to deliver Internet to their customers. In this way, Google is trying to bring back discarded open-access rules that used to require incumbent telecom companies such as Verizon and AT&T to allow ISPs such as Earthlink to buy space on their DSL broadband networks at discount prices. Before the Federal Communications Commission tossed out these open-access rules in 2005, incumbent carriers would typically wholesale access to their networks to other ISPs that would compete with each other to sell Internet services to consumers and businesses.
But while Google may intend for its network to serve as a model for other carriers, there is no guarantee that it will lead the incumbent carriers to follow suit. After all, the success of the open source Android operating system hasn't made proprietary operating systems such as the iPhone OS or BlackBerry any less popular or profitable. What remains to be seen, then, will be whether the Google network will lead to a revolution or will remain just a pretty model.