Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The FCC and Google want faster Internet access

After a year of public hearings and input via the Internet, the FCC has released their national broadband plan.

The FCC wants to bring 100 Mb/s download and 50 Mb/s upload speed to homes and 1 Gb/s to schools, hospitals and government buildings. They also advocate converting wireless spectrum used for TV broadcast to Internet access, with the goal of giving the US the fastest and most extensive wireless access in the world. They hope competition will lead to relatively cheap Internet access.

To put this in context, relatively low cost 100/50 Mb/s access is available in a number of cities and nations already.

More context -- Google plans to roll out 1 Gb/s fiber to between 50 and 500,000 homes in a test network.

Google hopes their test network will pressure on the FCC and the ISP industry to be more ambitious. Faster speeds mean a better Internet experience, which means more users and more Google ads. One hundred megabits per second sounds pretty good today, but it won't seem so fast in ten years.

They also hope to spur innovation. We have seen that researchers often develop applications for technology they expect to be available in the future. For example, Ivan Sutherland, shown here, built prototype image processing software with a graphical user interface in the early 1960s, using a very expensive computer. It was over twenty years before similar programs like MacDraw and AutoCad became economically viable.

Google hopes that, like Sutherland's expensive computer, their gigabit per second network will be used for new applications. They also hope to develop advanced technology for building fast networks.

How does 100 megabits per second compare to your current home Internet connectivity?

What sorts of applications would a gigabit per second connection enable?

Congress hoped to bring about competition and low prices for Internet access with the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Did the act succeed in spurring competition and lowering prices?