Google Throws Down With 1gbps FTTH Broadband Trials

Google Inc. (GOOG), once lambasted by ex-AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre for “using [his] pipes for free,” is leaping into the network business. And it plans to give open, non-discriminatory access to other service providers, reinforcing its net neutrality stance.

The search engine giant turned high-stakes mobile player soon will build ultra high-speed broadband networks in several trial regions across the United States. In a company blog posted Wednesday morning, product managers Minnie Ingersoll and James Kelly said Google will “deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1gbps, fiber-to-the-home connections.”

The network-focused move should come as little shock. Google has been snapping up dark fiber for years, remaining tight-lighted about its plans – something that drove industry insiders to distraction. Also, Google maintains close ties with wholesalers including Level 3 Communications Inc. (LVLT).

Providers including AT&T (T), Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) only offer speeds ranging from 1-10mpbs. Surely there is much gnashing of teeth behind those companies’ closed doors today.

As for pricing, Ingersoll and Kelly didn’t reveal details. They did say Google will “offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.”

So what motivated Google to elbow into the competitive operator world? Apparently, a simple matter of do-it-yourself thinking. After months of suggesting the FCC run gigabit-per-second trials as part of the pending national broadband plan, Google decided that it should run those trials itself instead of relying on the government, Google’s telecom lawyer told CNET.

“We’re fortunate to have some resources,” Richard Whitt told the publication.

For now, Google will limit its broadband network buildouts to a select number of communities. But it doesn’t yet know which ones. Rather, it’s asking residents and local governments to submit their reasons why Google should target them; the deadline is March 26.

In the meantime, the company is talking up its plans for the network. Google wants developers and users to create “killer apps” and services, Ingersoll and Kelly said, “or other uses we can’t yet imagine.” And of course, there’s the net neutrality provision that cheered open Internet proponents everywhere.

“This project is the kind of forward thinking and investment from the private sector that could jump-start Internet technology while helping our economy and giving consumers the experience of a true next-generation network,” said Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of public interest group Public Knowledge, in a prepared statement.

Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, agreed.

“We hope this will serve as an example to other network operators that the open model should not be feared, but should be emulated,” he said. “Profit and openness are mistakenly seen to be in conflict; in fact we believe they are synergistic and amplifying.”

On the whole, Google’s entry into the broadband-services sector promises to be a huge game-changer. The question is just how huge, especially as the entrenched incumbents will be forced to rethink their business models.

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