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Google will build 1Gbps fiber networks to the home

The last Google mile

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After building its own browser, its own operating system, its own mobile OS, its own smartphone, its own DNS service, and what amounts to its own private internet, Google is now building its own ultra-high-speed fiber networks to American homes.

With a blog post Wednesday morning, the search giant/world power announced it will build and test one-gigabit-per-second fiber connections to at least 50,000 homes in various locations across the US. The trial could expand to as many as 500,000 homes, according to the post.

A 1Gbps connection is about 100 times as fast as the fastest speeds available to most American broadband users today.

The primary purpose of the network, Google says, is experimentation. "Network providers are making real progress to expand and improve high-speed Internet access, but there's still more to be done," reads the blog post, from Google product managers Minnie Ingersoll and James Kelly.

"We don't think we have all the answers – but through our trial, we hope to make a meaningful contribution to the shared goal of delivering faster and better Internet for everyone."

Google has put out an RFI (request for information) to communities interested in joining the trial. The company will take responses from state, county, or city officials here until March 26. There's also a page where residents and local groups can nominate their communities.

In a video accompanying the blog post, Kelly says that with these fiber-to-the-home connections, Google is looking to make the web "better and faster for everyone, allowing applications that would be impossible today." Kelly also says that Google will experiment with new ways of building and operating fiber-optic networks and share those findings "with the world."

According to Kelly and Ingersoll, these will be "open access" networks, meaning the company will offer access to end users through a choice of multiple service providers. It's unclear whether Google would be one of the providers offering access directly to end users - though Kelly does say Google will "offer...connections at competitive prices."

The blog post followed an op-ed piece from Eric Schmidt in The Washington Post in which the Google boss called on the US to close its "innovation deficit," which would include boosting to-the-home internet speeds.

"High-speed Internet access must be much more widely available," Schmidt said. "Broadband is a major driver of new jobs and businesses, yet we rank only 15th in the world for access. More government support for broadband remains critical."

It's unclear whether Google will build the connections on its own or farm the task out to someone else. The company has yet to respond to our questions on the matter, but we wil update this story when they do.

Google already owns and operates a vast private infrastructure that spans as many as 36 data centers across the globe, and according to reports, the company purchased unused or "dark" fiber stretching across the US, saying this is used to drop the price of moving net traffic between its custom-built data centers and net peering points.

But with today's announcement, Google is moving into new territory, building net connections for the end user. Part of the company's aim, it would seem, is to break the power wielded by the likes of Verizon and AT&T over today's broadband networks and encourage telco giants to speed their own rate of innovation.

"We will allow third-parties to offer their own Internet access services, or other services, using our network," Google said in a statement sent to CNET.

"We believe this approach will maximize user choice as well as spur greater innovation and competition. Most providers in Europe and many places elsewhere in the world operate open access networks. It will be be open to any service provider, including incumbents and new entrants. 'Open' means open."

Google's has also pushed for more "openness" on US mobile networks - and successfully. Google successfully lobbied the FCC to attach open access requirements to the 700MHz spectrum auctioned off in January 2008 - requirements that would allow any application and any device onto the network - and this, along with the iPhone, sparked a wave of new innovation across the mobile market.

In lobbying the FCC over the 700MHz wireless spectrum, Google had also called for a "wholesale" requirement that would force the company licensing the spectrum to share it with other providers. This requirement was eventually struck down by the FCC. But now, Google intends to use this wholesale setup on its fiber-to-the-home networks.

In fragmenting the broadband market and boosting speeds, Google ultimately feeds its efforts to serve up any number of online services, collect user data, and target ads. Overseeing 60 to 70 per cent of the search market - and possibly more - and offering myriad other online services, Google already controls vast swaths of user data. And in recent months, it has moved into the browser and operating system markets as well.

Such software provides access to more data, which feeds Google's effort to target ads not only on its search engine and other Google online services but also across its widespread AdSense and DoubleClick ad platforms. One gigabit per second connections - able to run new breeds of high-bandwidth applications - would allow the company to collect still more data.

What's more, if Google controls the net connection, it would have access to data well beyond what gets pumped through its own web services.

Googles does call its fiber-to-the-home network a trial, capping customers at 500,000. And it's unclear whether the company will have access to all data streaming to and from end users. But presumably, it will - if it's one of the network service providers

Google's vast data store has already raised concerns from privacy advocates. And these concerns were recently compounded when The Washington Post reported that Google was in discussions to share data with the National Security Agency in an effort to analyze the recent cyber attacks on the company, alleged to have come from China. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) - a privacy advocacy group - has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the National Security Agency over the Google's purported discussions with that government organization. ®

Update

A Google spokeswoman has responded to say: "It's a little too early to talk about specifics. Our focus right now is on identifying the right community partners. We'll be sharing more information about our techniques as this project progresses."

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