Google Looks to Rock The Broadband Boat


Google is promising to cook up a K.C. masterpiece
of blindingly fast Internet — a pricey
project it hopes will push cable and
telcos to liberally spice up their own
broadband menus.

This summer, the Internet giant invited
residents in parts of Kansas City
to sign up for 1 Gigabit-per-second broadband
and an accompanying TV service, with a
registration deadline of Sept. 9. Shortly thereafter,
it expects to begin hooking up homes to
its fiber-to-the-home network. The project will
cost tens of millions of dollars, though Google
isn’t disclosing the price tag.

Google Access general manager Kevin Lo,
who heads up the project, spoke recently with
Multichannel News technology editor Todd

MCN: What’s the purpose of the Google Fiber project?

Kevin Lo: One, it’s a business. And it’s a very
good business for us. And second, we believe that
speeds matter. Going back to the days of dial-up,
every time you increased bandwidth you saw a
tremendous amount of innovation take place. When
we moved to broadband, we saw everything from
people shopping online to watching videos —
it was a whole new set of companies and
innovations. A Gigabit is literally 100 times what most
Americans get today.

MCN: What applications do you see emerging that
could use 1-Gig Internet?

KL: The great thing is, we actually don’t know. We
have no idea what will show up in five years, but there
are handful of applications that immediately benefit.

MCN: What are some of those concepts?

KL: We’re not going to talk about those yet. What’s
really important is that you have a critical mass of
users that have high-speed, two-way connectivity.
Kansas Citians have told us two areas for new applications
they want to see are health care and education.
Telemedicine works only when you have high-fidelity
connectivity … and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

MCN: How many homes will be connected in the
initial wave?

KL: Well, Kansas City itself has 2 million people.
We’ve announced agreements that cover roughly
the first million people. Our approach is a little bit
different from how people have done it before — no
surprise. We’re actually asking people where they
want to get connected.

MCN: But that’s because Google’s franchise agreements
let it selectively choose which areas to build
out, which no incumbent cable or telco would be
able to get. Didn’t Google get special treatment?

KL: We have nonexclusive agreements. In those
agreements, we focused on process improvements,
working closely with the cities so that we could
build quickly, efficiently and effectively. If you
want to talk about the digital divide, 25% of Kansas
Citians have no broadband at home. … We want to
materially help move the needle.

MCN: Is anyone going to use the full 1-Gig connection
on a sustained basis? Only BitTorrent soaks up
that much bandwidth, right?

LR: Nobody ever complains that the Internet is too fast.
If the infrastructure exists, there is no shortage of ideas
and innovations. Look at cost/performance curves for
computing power, storage capacity and access speeds —
these are the three drivers of the Internet today. Look at
broadband, and in the U.S. we have stalled for the last 10
years. It’s been on a different trajectory.

MCN: What vendors are you using for Google Fiber?
Will you be using Motorola equipment now that
Google owns the company?

KL: We don’t talk about suppliers. But we have stated
publicly that we built the devices ourselves.

MCN: Why offer TV? Why not just broadband?

KL: We thought we could do a really great job in delivering
a better TV experience. We had a lot of consumers
tell us they wanted premium content, delivered in
a premium experience.

MCN: You said you expect to operate Google Fiber
profitably, but do you expect to get a return on the
capital investment?

KL: It’s a good business. We’re really excited about the