When Google Inc. tapped Kansas City as its first test bed for super-fast
Internet service, the market looked poised to slingshot into a high-tech
Two years later, as a few Kansas City neighborhoods plug into their light-speed fiberoptics, the heights delivered by Google Fiber look less rarified.
Fast-moving plans in Lawrence, Omaha, Neb., rural Vermont and pockets of Chicago and Seattle match the Internet speeds that Google Fiber is beginning to deliver in parts of Kansas City. Google itself says it also will bring 1-gigabit-per-second connections to Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah, in the next year or so.
Those new Big Data markets reflect a momentum that advocates of speedier broadband say marks the early remaking of high-tech infrastructures.
"We're actually seeing gigabit envy starting to drive the desire for speed," said Heather Burnett Gold, the president of the Fiber to the Home Council Americas. "You're starting to see communities wonder, 'Why shouldn't we have those speeds, too?'"
Her organization is staging a conference Kansas City this week to seduce more communities into the investments needed to overhaul their access to the Internet.
Four years ago, U.S. broadband speeds ranked 22nd in the world. Thanks largely to marginal upgrades of Internet services sold by cable and telephone companies, the U.S. now ranks eighth.
The light-carrying glass wires that make next-generation data transfers possible aren't particularly pricey. The costs of installing those fiberoptic lines directly to homes -- much ditch-digging and pole-climbing is unavoidable -- are.
Some parts of the job are getting easier and cheaper. Crews can dig trenches more quickly and cheaply than a decade ago. And wires that once had to be fused on the spot can now be plugged into each other more easily.
Still, regulations remain a barrier. Google Fiber has benefited in the Kansas City market because it is not bound by rules that it move into neighborhoods where few customers are likely to take the service. It also has seen cities fast-track its permitting process and give it relatively easy access to public rights of way.
That is partly why Kansas City and its Internet speedster cousins remain so rare. The cable and telephone companies may have some pressure from customers for faster connections, but the demand isn't strong enough yet to prompt them to yank out their existing hodgepodge of decades-old fiberoptic, copper and coaxial cables and replace them with fiberoptic lines stretching all the way to homes.
"Google has prompted others. It's one of the drivers that's motivating change," said Jake Brewer, a spokesman for US Ignite. His group focuses on next-generation Internet applications that demand ultra-fast connections.
"Once they see what's possible, it's consumers that will be the bigger drivers."
So far, however, very few American consumers can see for themselves what's possible.
Kansas City remains ahead of the pack. Sure, Chattanooga, Tenn., had a similar network before Google Fiber landed here, but there's a critical difference. Gigabit speeds there sell for $300 a month so virtually no residential customers signed up. In Kansas City, Google has priced equally fast Internet at $70 a la carte or $120 when bundled with a cable-style TV package.
Most Popular Stories
- Slow Week Ahead of December FOMC Meeting
- Hispanics Seek to Grow School Board Members
- 'Knockout Game': Myth or Menace?
- U.S. Companies Eager for Iranian Business
- Questions Remain in Jenni Rivera's Death
- Banks Fret as Volcker Vote Approaches
- Entrepreneurs' Next Creation May Be New Laws
- GM Bailout Saved 1.2 Million U.S. Jobs, Report Says
- Bitcoin Used to Buy Tesla Car
- Paul Walker Fans Pay Respects