I can haz internet?

logical chaos by tigerplish

In case you missed it, Google just announced a plan to install 100Gb fiberoptic networks in several communities nationwide. Say what now? 100 what? Fiberoptic who? In brief, this is plan to bestow1 upon a number of unsuspecting citizens internet access at a speed that runs circles around Verizon’s Fios service, currently the fastest commercial internet available to any significant number of customers.

“OK, so where do I fit in” you may ask? Well, I’m glad you did. There’s a current belief2 that much of what troubles the American Economy may find its remedy in widespread availability/affordability of broadband access. There is even a bit of a groundswell in the philanthropic realm to begin providing such access to rural communities3. And as someone in the so-called trenches of one such rural community I sit firmly in the camp that believes expanded access is not just an economic but a social imperative.

Every day, in numbers that continue to rise we see people coming in to use our computers. Many of them are surfing facebook but many others are applying for jobs, updating their resumes, looking for services and filing for unemployment. Why do they come here? Internet in our county is expensive and slow. The fastest “broadband” speed available to residential customers is relatively pokey DSL.

Still confused about how this affects you, dear reader? Setting aside discussion about whether we view it as essential that one be able to facebook, youtube, email and other such activity4, we now live in a world where you need online access and computer skills to apply for a shelf stocking job at Food Lion. Setting aside, again, the fact that those with the most need and the least access pay the highest price in this game we see that internet access is quickly becoming a necessity of everyday life.

And trust me, it ain’t getting any less necessary anytime soon. Which brings us back to Google, and eventually libraries. What Google seems to be doing is firing a shot across the bow of telcom companies who often find themselves in a monopoly situation5. By showing an alternative way of building infrastructure – partnering with communities – and offering competitive prices for superior speed Google is challenging the current economic model. And here’s hoping it works.

Finally, back to libraries. I’ts always going to come back to libraries around here. Happily, my library has just finalized paperwork that will bring 10Mb/sec fiberoptic internet to county residents at our six locations. Although we currently provide faster internet than many people have access to the county, this will give our people faster access with fewer interruptions in service6 in an economic climate where whenever we can provide more we should.

Libraries are always going to be a stop-gap for the underprivileged and those in the greatest need. This is often a source of satisfaction and frustration in my day-to-day. But by providing this service we, like Google, will hopefully start to exert some economic pressure in some meaningful way. Perhaps the more projects we see like the one from Google and the more institutions (read: libraries) that offer these types of speeds the more people will come to expect broadband saturation. And that’s good for everyone.

So what do you think? Is expanding broadband speed and access for everyone a priority? How dependent have you become on having ready access to the internets? Are you now planning to petition Google to bring fiber to your neighborhood? Discuss in the comments.

1 I use the word bestow in a limited sense – the big Goog does plan to charge for this access, but promises “a competitive price” to between 50,000 and 500,000 customers.
2 evangelical and wild-eyed though it may be…
3 full disclosure: my place of employ is included as a beneficiary in the linked grant.
4 Yes, I argue – and this may end up as its own post.
5 Sure, I can choose between Verizon and Comcast, but the choice is between slow (Verizon) and expensive (Comcast).
6 Heavy YouTube use still drags our network to a crawl.

4 Responses to “I can haz internet?”

  1. David S Says:

    At 1 Gbps speed, the way we can use the internet fundamentally changes. Now the type of data we access on the web is “web friendly” like Youtube clips that have low bitrates compared to broadcast video, DVDs, etc or streaming music services that sound like FM radio. I imagine that now most library patrons probably use flash drives to store papers they are working on.

    With 1Gbps, services like Dropbox or Skydrive become much more attractive. People won’t need flash drives when they can just log into the cloud to grab the data they want access to. Also one can store HD video or say their mp3 collections entirely on the cloud and access them from anywhere without physically bringing around a computer with a large hard drive.

    With that amount of bandwidth, perhaps even our libraries can enhance their own cloud services, like how the Nook e-Reader has a feature in which libraries can loan out ebooks to patrons or establish cloud storage that patrons can use to save work so they can return to it at a later visit.

    There’s a lot that both the public and private sector can do with that sheer amount of bandwidth, and unfortunately the US isn’t leading in creative uses of connected computers becuase we don’t have the speed. Hopefully this Google initiative can serve as a jumping board for uses we can’t think of today, but wouldn’t want to live without tomorrow.

  2. Walter Says:

    Oh Oh, Google, pick Staunton! That’s fast, I want it, we deserve it. We need it for the reasons you mention. You didn’t use those two key words burned into our brains in school: digital divide. But of course that’s the point of your post, and I concur. The irony is trading one monopoly for another, but Google’s system isn’t backwards [yet], so let’s take it. It sounds enlightened comparatively, and we certainly need help taking-on-giants/advocating, so if Google wants some of that mantle, great. Much was made early on about Google being close to the Obama administration, but I haven’t heard much since. It’d be nice to legislate some of this. Yes there’s a true digital divide, but there’s also the grey area of people who don’t use libraries and sit at home paying ~$20-$30 for shoddy access. Certainly that’s a digital muddle, or something. I don’t know, it’s been a mess for a long time. Quoth Charlie Brown, “Good Grief.”

  3. Walter Says:

    @David S. Great points. Such connectivity supports Google’s netbook-as-portal vision too– no need for local storage, software, etc. when computers simply access the cloud.

  4. Conan Says:

    DS – thanks for the well stated case for why we need faster speeds. I think one problem is that the “debate” right now isn’t really a debate. “Tech” people seem to get it and the public at large seems mostly unaware that these speeds can be practical. That’s why it’s nice Google is throwing it’s weight around.

    Walt – Yeah, I got sort of tired of the “digital divide” in school. Plus the divide in this country seems to run far deeper than just digital. But that’s another post. Though I like your coining of the phrase “digital muddle”. Those are definitely the folks we’re after.

    A last word on legislation. There is some federal support for schools and libraries to provide high speed internet access. The e-rate discount program [http://www.usac.org/sl/about/overview-program.aspx] is entering its 12th year and we will be getting a 70% on the costs involved with providing fiberoptic service. So, we got that going for us.

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