Google officially announced
the details of its fiber service in Kansas City today. If you don't remember, after doing a nationwide search, Google chose Kansas City (both the Kansas and the Missouri ones) as a sort of testbed
. For years, we've pointed out that the real problem in broadband is the lack of competition
. It's that lack of competition that leads companies like Verizon to stop investing
in fiber networks, and companies like Comcast to only offer serious broadband
where its competing with fiber. Competition is the key, and sadly, it's lacking in most places.
The Google setup was intriguing in that it was a true new entrant in the market, and one that seemed to acknowledge that what was most important wasn't appeasing the short term thinking
on Wall Street that pushes against faster speeds and more innovation (too expensive!). Instead, it was going to see what it could do to increase speeds and decrease limits -- and now we've seen a glimpse of what that looks like with the official details -- many of which probably have the traditional broadband players quite annoyed
First up, there's an oddity: to actually do the last bits of the buildout, Google is asking residents to sign up, and the neighborhoods with the greatest interest will get the finished buildout first (which makes sense). Then there are two bits that are somewhat disruptive: first, you can get broadband for free
, if you take the package that gives you speeds up to 5 Mbps. That may not seem that
high, but as Google points out, that's about the average speed out there (and, frankly, it's more than twice the speed of the broadband I get at my house, smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley). You do have to pay for the installation, which is $300 (either upfront or in twelve monthly installments at $25). Then it's free service for at least the next seven years.
The second disruptive bit is that the full 1 Gbps offering only costs $70 per month (or $120 per month if you include TV) -- way lower than most competing offerings -- and the 1 Gbps is symmetrical
meaning upstream and downstream
. Broadband providers have long assumed that people are content consumers more than they are content creators, and thus they stressed the downstream bandwidth, while limiting upstream. Google seems to be making the bet that people can make use of that bandwidth in the other direction as well, and that should be quite interesting to see.
In some ways, this reminds me (a bit) of when Google launched Gmail and offered everyone 1 gig of storage. At the time, most competing services were in the range of 10 megs of storage before you had to pay. Google basically changed that market overnight -- so much so that many people thought it was an April Fools joke (it was launched on April 1). That won't happen here, obviously, because the service is just limited to Kansas City, but it still is setting the bar for what's possible.
There is one serious disappointment here, however. When Google announced this project, it had promised that it would allow competing services on its network. As we wrote about at the time, a Google VP said:
"We (sic) definitely inviting the Comcasts, the AT&T service providers to work with us on our network, and to provide their service offering on top of our pipe -- we're definitely planning on doing that. Our general attitude has been that there's plenty of room for innovation right now in the broadband space, and it's great what the cable companies are doing, upgrading to DOCSIS 3.0, but no one company has a monopoly on innovation. We're looking for other service providers to be able to come in and offer their service on top of our network so that residents have a choice when they open up their accounts. They get the connection from us, and then they have a choice as to who they subscribe to."
A few months ago there were some rumors making the rounds that Google had moved away
from this plan -- and there was no mention of it in today's announcement at all. That doesn't mean Google won't eventually go there -- and it's possible that no other service provider wanted to "legitimize" Google's service this way, but it definitely would be nicer if Google also used this testbed to prove that there's value in competition at the service level, rather than just at the infrastructure level.
Either way, people living in Kansas City should be pretty damn happy right now...