Broadband speeds in the United States have long lagged
behind other industrialized nations; the average download speed across the US was 5.1 megabits (mbps) in August of last year. While that's a 45 percent increase over the average download speed in 2007 it's just 25 percent of South Korea (20.4mbps), less than half the speed of Sweden (12.8mbps) and 60 percent as fast as Germany (8.2mbps). Google, like a lot of other companies, wants to see more US citizens have access to higher-speed broadband (or broadband at all)—but unlike most other corporations, the search titan is willing to directly fund efforts to make that happen.
According to an announcement on the Official Google Blog, Google is going to pull fiber to the home of between 50,000 and 500,000 US citizens in several as-yet-unselected test markets. This new network will deliver up to one gigabit per second of bandwidth (the company doesn't state if this refers to download bandwidth or the aggregate of upload/download). Regardless, 1Gbps of bandwidth rather handily outclasses what anyone else around the world is getting—including the South Koreans.
Google states that it will offer this service as a "competitive price," without acknowledging that there's no comparative service
with which to price match. The closest equivalent (Verizon's FiOS), costs $144.99 for 50Mbps download/20 Mbps upload. Either certain lucky users in the right test markets are going to get insanely good deals in terms of bandwidth-per-dollar, or Google is going to need to find itself a group of people willing to pay an awful
lot of money for a home fiber linkup.
If you want more information on the program, check the video above. If you're curious about why, exactly, Google is launching this program, the company's blog post lists two main reasons. First, it wants to see what sort of next-generation apps developers and users can create when handed ultra-high-speed bandwidth connections. Second, it wants to test new ways of building fiber networks and pledges to share this information with the world. Once built, the network will be open access—users will be able to choose their ISP and Google has pledged to manage it in "an open, non-discriminatory, and transparent way."
We've previously covered the FCC's current interest
in developing a national
broadband policy and the funds allocated
to do so as part of the federal stimulus package if you're interested in the larger context surrounding Google's announcement.