Gigaom

Austin Gets Ready for Google Fiber


Austin Gets Ready for Google Fiber

Photograph by Ken Thorsteinsson/Getty Images

I was so excited by the prospect that my newly built home in Austin, Tex., might get Google Fiber’s gigabit service that I couldn’t sleep.

I felt like a kid the night before Christmas, running over all the possibilities in my head and generally waking my husband up every few minutes to exclaim ridiculous things like, “This means our bandwidth won’t fluctuate when we’re watching Hulu at night!” or “I bet we could build some kind of video-related IM, so I could be in the kitchen and ping you at work. It would just be always on! Hell, it might be streamed at the new higher than high-def, 4K standard or better if we’re doing gigabit service. OMG 4K!”

It’s no longer a question: Google (GOOG) is bringing its Google Fiber network to Austin. I’ve confirmed it with sources and the brief publication of a post in the middle of the night by Google should assuage anyone else’s doubts. While I have no idea how far Google plans to extend its network, if it plans to model the rollout on Kansas City’s build-out I just have to get my neighbors as excited about a gigabit as I am.

My husband’s willingness to humor my gigabit suggestions became less enthusiastic after midnight, but he pointed out what many people are no doubt thinking: “We won’t have to deal with Time Warner Cable anymore.” As a customer of Time Warner’s business service, he has had several bitter experiences. On the residential side, I’ve been miffed by the price hikes (I’m paying $70 for 30/5 service) but content with the service. But as I sit here writing this post while streaming music via my Sonos and while my child watches Netflix (NFLX), I’m well aware that even if the executives at Time Warner Cable (TWC) may say that consumers don’t want a gig, I do.

And you should, too. Heck, in Kansas City I’d pay the same price for a gig as I do now for something 30 times slower.

Broadband has undoubtedly made our lives better in countless small and large ways. Every time someone sends you a goofy YouTube video or animated GIF, you’re taking advantage of the ever-increasing speeds Internet service providers have delivered. When I started accessing the Web via dial-up modem, an animated GIF stopped a Web page for loading for minutes[/em]. Yet we waited!

Now people pop nine of them in a news article as a means of telling the story. Favoring visuals instead of text on websites is a superficial change, but it’s part of an evolution to real-time video connections and maybe even ambient presence. It’s like Skype (MSFT) on steroids.

But there are more serious benefits. For example, a few years ago when my daughter broke her leg, I wrote how awesome it was that the doctors in the ER could just e-mail her X-rays to the pediatric orthopedist on call.

The on-call doc got to stay home and we managed to get answers faster and get my daughter back home. X-rays are big files, and we’re lucky the doctor had the ability to receive them. He’s lucky he didn’t have a data cap that would prevent him from—or charge him extra—for getting multigigabyte files.

And that’s one of the biggest repercussions of Google’s fiber rollouts. The more people who can pay $70 for gigabit service (or get 5 Mbps for free), the more pressure this puts on the existing providers to upgrade their networks and cut anticonsumer crap like data caps. But that’s exactly why more cities need these networks.

You may be wondering why you, in particular, need a gig. The answer is that today you don’t.

I spend all day thinking and writing about broadband and even I have no idea what I would do with a symmetrical gigabit network inside my home. But we’ve gone far beyond the idea that the Internet is just a fad. It’s the underpinning of the information economy. Right now our content is digital, and while next-generation video standards like 4K will require 25 Mbps connections, the real reason you need a gig isn’t about video.

The Internet today transfers digital bits, but it’s rapidly moving to the place where it will transfer physical atoms. Thus, it won’t be about information, but about physical goods. Things like Uber or same-day delivery are examples of this. You tell the Internet what you want and it delivers it for you in real time or at least that day. If you consider 3D printers and the evolution of on-demand manufacturing, then the Internet could bring you physical goods directly. You want a bracelet you see online? If you have a 3D printer, the company will send the file to your Makerbot and it will print it.

More likely, the company would ship the design as a file to a manufacturing partner near your home and they would print it. Then they deliver it to you or you pick it up. Take this outside the consumer realm to manufacturing and maybe you get a car part in a few hours as opposed to waiting a few days for it to ship. In medicine, better and faster connectivity opens up the possibility of custom, on-demand drugs. There are startups today offering biological research services via the Web. It’s not so far-fetched to imagine your pharmacy stocking the raw materials and then getting a custom drug recipe from your doctor via the Web, and having it manufactured on the spot.

This is the future, or some variation of the future. The point is we don’t know exactly what we will need, but it will need connectivity. And while we have physical resource constraints, legal barriers, and a lack of knowledge about how to pull this future together, we shouldn’t have to worry about our connectivity. For us to move beyond the information age, we need to be able to take our ability to transfer information reliably and at low cost for granted. Fiber networks offering a gigabit allow us to take data caps, congested networks, and service providers that don’t want to lose their Triple Play revenue out of the equation.

Only then does the information age become something that’s a given. Something that’s so much a part of our fabric that we can move on to the next level of innovation. And that is why we need a gig even if we don’t know what we’re going to do with it.

We need it so we can innovate. So we can move beyond animated GIFs and into the next wave of interactive storytelling. So we can take the ability to ship medical records to the best doctor, no matter where she is located, for granted and start working on custom cures that will help that patient.

With Google Fiber, Austin will get that chance. Every single person who gets the opportunity to sign up should. They should stay up late talking to their spouses about what they want to do with unlimited connectivity. The information age was awesome, but now it’s time to see what’s next.

Also from GigaOM:

Google Retail Stores? Why My Crazy Prediction for 2013 May Come True (subscription required)

Wearable Design: Misfit and the Age of the Glanceable UI

Nine in 10 Londoners Will Soon Have Free Wi-Fi in Tube Stations

Can Big Tech Overcome It’s Love-Hate Relationship and Destroy Patent Trolls Once and for All?

Why Facebook Home Won’t Move the Needle for Facebook

Higginbotham is a writer for GigaOM.

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