Google Fiber, the superhero ISP10/29/2014
Americans have a fantastic talent for yielding to malfeasance. Political shenanigans, continually rising college tuition, highway traffic jams, movie spoilers — these things and many more eventually become a fact of life to which we all acquiesce. As far as tech grievances go, as products evolve many annoyances are cleared up. (Remember when you could only send text messages to people on the same carrier as you? That was the worst.) Still, as we lose tech issues to complain about, the worst one of them still remains: connection speeds.
Something is horrendously wrong when the United States ranks 10th in the world in Internet speed. We invented, populated and basically run the Internet, yet somehow our Internet is slower than Latvia and the Czech Republic. Basic high-speed Internet packages in South Korea, which has the fastest connection speeds on the planet, outpace Des Moines’ basic connections 8 to 1. For a state that proudly boasts one of its universities invented the computer, this isn’t an annoyance — it is a grave injustice.
In Des Moines, most homeowner high-speed Internet connections range between 5 and 15 megabits per second (mbps). While 5 mbps is fast enough to comfortably surf the web and load websites, it easily falters when trying to stream online games or HD video. Of course web surfers can strengthen the fidelity of their web connection, but not without making a serious monthly dent in their checkbook. Welcome to true capitalism. When demand for a product is completely without ceiling, it doesn’t matter if the supply is limitless.
Thankfully not all Internet service providers (ISPs) are careless, money-hungry corporations. What ISP delivers the web without dollar signs in their eyes? Not surprisingly, it’s Google. As it turns out, the cost between delivering customers 5 mbps and 1,000 mbps — i.e., 1 gigabit per second — is not that cumbersome, businesswise.
In 2011, Google flipped the ISP world on its head with Google Fiber, a service that delivered constant gigabit speed to customers over fiber-optic cable. Connection speed of 1 gbps means users can download or upload an entire HD movie in 30 seconds. That means for roughly $70 per month, Google Fiber subscribers can upload their entire Blu-ray library to the cloud within minutes.
Sadly, over the past three years, Google Fiber has only set up shop in Kansas City, Missouri, Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah. While there are expansion plans for roughly two dozen more cities, Des Moines is not on that list. Still, the dawn of gigabit Internet has thoroughly rocked the ISP apple cart.
When Google Fiber announced plans in April 2013 to expand its service to Austin, the incumbent ISP king AT&T dramatically dropped its connection fees. Not only did it cut customer costs, it bumped all subscribers from piddly 20 mbps to 300 mbps, seeing a possible mass subscriber exodus in its future. This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to Austin. Nashville, Charlotte, Phoenix, Portland — these and all the other announced expansion cities have seen available connection speeds rise and prices fall.
So what are the chances Des Moines gets Google Fiber? Well, if campaigning, an existing fiber-optic network and a nearly monopolized market have anything to say, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. But even if Google doesn’t bring Fiber to our city in near future, couldn’t it at least scare our ISPs with a faux-announcement? If a Google press release came out tomorrow saying Des Moines is a possible expansion site for Fiber, how long do you think it would take for CenturyLink and Mediacom to come crawling to our front doors with souped-up speeds and cheaper rates? CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.