If Americans had to choose a Facebook status for their relationship with the Internet, it would most definitely read: "It's complicated."
The Internet provides unlimited access to almost all of the world's information, but Internet access typically comes through a major cable provider with a monopoly on a particular city; and those major Internet providers are not held in high regard. In fact, the American Customer Satisfaction Index shows that ISPs have the lowest satisfaction rating of any industry in the U.S, even lower than airlines and banks.
When Google revealed their Google Fiber gigabit Internet service, it seemed a welcome respite from the current Internet system; but it was still just a pipe dream for many Internet citizens. However, a recent announcement gives weight to the theory that Google is moving Fiber from a small-scale experiment to a legitimate ISP option for consumers.
Google announced in a blog post Wednesday that it is officially exploring nine metropolitan areas which comprise 34 cities, as potential targets for Google Fiber. Google Fiber was launched as a pilot in Kansas City, Kansas in 2011 and they had already expanded to Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah. If any company has the resources to do battle with the hegemony of existing ISPs, it is Google.
Currently, these are just plans; but Google typically lays serious groundwork before making an announcement like this. Still, according to Milo Medin, vice president of Google Access Services, it might not work for every city.
"While we do want to bring Fiber to every one of these cities, it might not work out for everyone. But cities who go through this process with us will be more prepared for us or any provider who wants to build a fiber network," Medin wrote in a blog post.
Which begs the question: What does it take to get Google Fiber to come to my city?
Google mentioned a list of items that cities will need to check off in order to be further considered for Fiber. According to Google communications associate Jenna Wandres, it also has to do with the individual city's potential to use Google Fiber in a unique way.
"We chose these cities because they are led by people who have been working hard to bring faster Internet speeds and the latest technologies to their residents. We believe these are communities who will do amazing things with a gig. And they are diverse — not just geographically, but in the ways they'll give us opportunities to learn about the wide range of challenges and obstacles that communities might face in trying to build a new fiber network."The nine major metro areas chosen by Google are Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, San Antonio, Phoenix, San Jose, Salt Lake City, and Portland. According to Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, Google approached them asking about their willingness to participate in an "investigative process."
Google's Medin mentioned some of the local issues Google will consider as they choose the final contenders.
"We're going to work on a detailed study of local factors that could affect construction, like topography (e.g., hills, flood zones), housing density and the condition of local infrastructure. Meanwhile, cities will complete a checklist of items that will help them get ready for a project of this scale and speed," Medin wrote in a blog post.
Portland was one of the 1100 cities that applied for Google Fiber in 2010. Next week, they will join the other cities in meeting with Google to go over the checklist for facilitating Fiber. Mary Beth Henry, manager for the office for community technology in Portland, said that getting Google Fiber to come to the city is: "The most important thing I am working on right now."
Google has indicated they will pay the applicable city permit fees and Henry said that they are not trying to get special treatment from the city. Accurate CIS data is critical to Google and Portland is working on an inventory of their available assets to help with grease the wheels. According to Henry, having Fiber paves the way for innovation in the city.
"It basically represents the infrastructure of the future and is the foundation for economic development and excelling in education and healthcare," Henry said.
Kim McMillan, the corporate communications director for the city of Charlotte echoed this idea when she said:
"The most exciting part of this is unleashing the untapped potential of individuals, institutions and entrepreneurs to use broadband without limits. There is a tremendous creative community capability that exists when persons no longer have to be concerned about broadband availability, metering, or limits. Charlotte views this opportunity as an economic development tool."
Google Fiber is the perfect storm of disruptive technology and it makes absolute sense as a business move. Internet service that is up to 100 times faster for a comparable price is not something that customers can ignore.
Google is in the business of keeping people online, and keeping people online keeps them in front of ads. Mayor Kleinschmidt, who sees Fiber as a way to complement existing innovation and enhance business opportunities, is excited about the potential ISP marketplace competition that Google Fiber could bring to Chapel Hill.
"It's hard to imagine a better opportunity for a consumer, a business, or a university," Kleinschmidt said.
As Google Fiber grows, it will obviously disrupt the ISP industry as it potentially draws customers away from giants like Comcast, AT&T, and Time Warner. But, Google may not be ready to pick a fight. Austin summed it up:
"Neither side is ready to go to war."
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.