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If Google builds it, will the applications come?

Chocolate Factory's Kevin Lo at the Broadband World Forum

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Forget the public vs private infrastructure debate, when Google need a high-speed broadband network, Google just builds it.

Addressing Broadband World Forum in Paris this week, Google Access GM Kevin Lo revealed that Google’s fiber network ambitions were forged when he and Chocolate Factory co-founder Sergey Brin discussed the US government’s national broadband plan in 2009.

Brin mused at the time: “If we think this is so important – why are we asking the government to do it?” And that is how Google Fiber was born. Exploratory engineering has started on the first leg of the ambitious project in Kansas City, Kansas, which was selected after an extensive crowdsourced vetting process.

“Kansas was selected because we wanted to find cities that could work at Google speeds and could leverage this network for economic as well as educational gain,” Lo said.

In stark contrast to the debates over cost methodologies, ROI and pricing models faced by state owned infrastructure projects, Lo conceded he did not know how the network would be used and would not reveal ROI strategies.

“What are people going to do with it? We have no idea. But we believe that we are on the right side of history - where speed matters,” he said.

Lo said that Google has grown disenchanted with onerous regulation and ‘rights of way’ policies from governments around the world who control this access. “Regulation added so many unreasonable fees and T&A’s that did not make sense to us,” he said.

Google’s aim with the Kansas fibre project is to “inspire consumers, government and community to believe in the possibility of broadband - that if you put a 100 Mbps symmetrical connection in people's home, that they will figure out ways to use it.”

He added that gigabit connectivity was not about fast email, it is about doing things you have never seen before such as virtual/augmented reality and telemedicine.

“We hope that Kansas will be a model for deployment around the world and we will light up first customers early next year,” Lo confirmed.

He said that while policy was a necessary part of the discussion, other areas of government like local government were often better placed to make infrastructure decisions and were closer to the needs of the customers. Lo believes that the biggest challenge we face in the spread of broadband is affordability. "We need to work on deployment techniques that cut costs and make broadband available for all. We will share our learnings on this around the world."

When pressed on next city roll out targets, Lo refused to elaborate but said there had been “extensive interest during the RFI process.”

Last week, Google started offering its 1 Gbps service to Stanford University residents at US$250 if partner Sonic.net installs the service or US$50 for self-install.

He deflected all ROI queries but said, “Google is not a cash starved entity. We are in this to make money, we don’t expect to lose money. This thing has to make economic sense and it does.”

Fellow panelist Australia shadow communications Minister Malcolm Turbull quipped: “I can imagine Google doing this at a loss because the OTT provider has a massive interest in people building these networks. That’s why Google is very supportive of NBN in Australia.”

He used the analogy of building a ten lane freeway, toll free and available only for trucks. “All the trucking operators would say- Malcolm you are a visionary. A nation building visionary.” The anecdote pulled the biggest laugh of the day. ®

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