Google Inc. plans to build a handful of experimental, ultra-fast Internet networks around the country to ensure that tomorrow's systems can keep up with online video and other advanced applications that the search company will want to deliver.
The Google project, announced Wednesday, is also intended to provide a platform for outside developers to create and try out all sorts of cutting-edge applications that will require far more bandwidth than today's networks offer.
The company said its fiber-optic broadband networks will deliver speeds of 1 gigabit per second to as many as 500,000 Americans. The systems will be many times faster than the existing DSL, cable and fiber-optic networks that connect most U.S. consumers to the Internet today at speeds typically ranging from 3 megabits to 20 megabits per second.
Google envisions systems that will let consumers download a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes, allow rural health clinics to send 3-D medical images over the Web and let students collaborate with classmates around the world while watching live 3-D video of a university lecture.
"Our goal is to trial new technologies and figure out what kinds of applications you can send over these big pipes," said Richard Whitt, Google's Washington-based counsel for telecommunications and media. "There may be next-generation applications that are being held back right now."
Whitt said the company isn't looking to compete head-to-head with the phone and cable companies that dominate the U.S. broadband business. Rather, he said, Google hopes its project will help advance new broadband applications and network technology and help identify ways to bring fiber-optic connections to more Americans at a lower cost.
The announcement came as welcome news to public interest groups that have warned that broadband connections in the U.S. are far slower and more expensive than those available in many industrialized countries in Europe and Asia. Although there are other ultra-fast networks in the U.S. — such as Internet2, which is run by a consortium of universities, corporations, government agencies and laboratories — those are not available to consumers.
Google will seek input from communities that might be interested in getting one of its testbed networks. The company said it was too soon to say how much such networks would cost to build.
The company said it is prepared to sell access to consumers directly at prices that are competitive with existing broadband services, but it would entertain partnering with an Internet service provider or local government.
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