I choose to live in a rural area because it's a great place to raise my kids and I like that my rooster isn't waking up 100 neighbors (just 3 or 4). Living out here, though, comes at a price in terms of broadband. I'm writing this while connected to the Internet via Wildblue's Exede satellite service and 3mbps DSL, load-balanced on my Untangle box. Many folks within a couple miles of me don't even have access to DSL, though, to compensate for the ridiculous data caps and very high cost on the satellite service. Even the new satellite service, however, at 12mbps (when the weather is good), can't touch what others get with cable, FIOS, or, particularly, Google Fiber.
Honestly, I can't even imagine what gigabit speeds would feel like. Only about 20% of my traffic goes through my satellite service, since we blow through our 25GB data cap in just a few days when we use it 100%. And satellite remains plagued by latency, making it a choice between evils (slow DSL with low latency vs. snappy satellite with high ping times) for web-based video and audio applications. Fiber to my doorstep is a distant dream.
Google's entry into residential fiber, though, is interesting for its role in the larger market. The search giant is just beginning its work in one city - there is obviously a ways to go before Google takes this pilot to other communities. That said, Verizon, Charter, Comcast, and other high-speed ISPs, many of whom increasingly throttle customers on their fastest networks, have to be at least a little nervous. I'd like to believe they're a lot nervous. Like shaking in their boots nervous.
Unfortunately, I don't think they are. Every indication I get as I talk to various ISPs, both in my quest personally for greater speed and in the context of broadband for schools indicates that they don't even have Google on their radar. They've had protected monopolies for way too long and are having serious trouble justifying further expansion of high-speed infrastructure when margins are so low. In fact, as Google drives down prices (their pricing is competitive with much slower services), broadband margins will get even slower, creating disincentives for the major ISPs to expand further.
Google, as with their search and other free or heavily subsidized projects, wants eyeballs. They have incentives that extend far beyond selling subscriptions for broadband. They want consumers to have massive data pipes to make sure they're using Nexus tablets, Android-based TV solutions, streaming on Android phones, and Googling like never before. In exchange, the people who flock to their service and begin using the Internet to fully replace everything from traditional phone service to regular TV will see Google Ads. All of this feeds Google's primary business model.
Check out the plans page on Google's Fiber site. Can you say ecosystem? Good! I knew you could!
So what does this mean for the rest of us? It means that someday we'll have more ubiquitous broadband but that it probably won't come from one of the traditional ISPs. It might not come from Google either, but it's going to come from private companies with their own novel incentives to make sure that everyone can consume rich content and spend more time online. If the Facebook IPO hadn't tanked, for example, it wouldn't be inconceivable that Facebook Internet might emerge. Or Netflix Internet (not going to happen there, either, I'm afraid). Or Disney Internet (far more likely, although not through any source, just because it makes sense that a content company would want us consuming more content faster).
Personally, I welcome it. I can barely get Verizon to add a new phone line to my house. They've already told me that our local central office is closed to further expansion forever and that I will never be able to add another DSL connection at my house (unless, of course, someone in my community dies or moves and nobody grabs up their service before I do). So I watch the obituaries.
Rather than reading the obits, though, I'd rather a private company just sweep in and buy my eyeballs. They're certainly for sale, not to the highest bidder but the fastest.