Google’s announcement that it plans to experiment with 1-Gbps open access FTTH networks certainly has created a buzz. Vendors hope to supply the search engine behemoth with technology. Municipalities see a potential white knight. And incumbent carriers see a threat.
These service providers definitely should be concerned, say pundits. If Google can create a bountiful, yet a la carte menu of services for the subscribers on its network that would enable customers to access and pay for anything they want—and only what they want—you have the ultimate in the kind of consumer choice net neutrality advocates have demanded. And you can bet that Google won’t be throttling the bandwidth of power users.
The worst fears of incumbent service providers will be realized if Google successfully creates such a network and demonstrates to the Federal Communications Commission that open access should form the centerpiece of the upcoming National Broadband Plan. But before panic sets in among the likes of AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, Google will have a few things to prove.
First, of course, is whether such a networked utopia is possible. The technical aspects won’t be difficult—1-Gbps-capable open access networks have already been built. It’s the service aspect that will be the challenge. You can’t just offer Google Voice; you’ll need Vonage and several other voice providers. You’ll also need to come up with multiple providers of video and data services.
This shouldn’t prove impossible—but current examples of open access networks here in the United States, such as iProvo and UTOPIA, have shown this is easier said than done. The other thing iProvo and UTOPIA have demonstrated is that making money providing open access infrastructure is extremely difficult. Google can afford to subsidize its trial networks. In Europe, public/private partnerships keep such operations afloat. Is the U.S. government ready to subsidize optical infrastructure the way it does highways?
Google will have a lot to prove before open access becomes the norm rather than the exception. But the experiment will be fascinating.
Stephen M. Hardy
& Associate Publisher