On the Web, how we define the word fast has undergone an upgrade or two since the days of dial-up.
Cable, DSL and general broadband speed became the standard, with speeds of 5mbps able to provide enough bandwidth heft to keep the average user afloat on their laptops, tablets and smartphones. It's enough for minimal download time, acceptable buffering and inconsequential page-load times.
Then along came fiber Internet, from carriers such as Google and Verizon, with promises to turn the Web speedometer upside down – and transform our expectations for fast Internet.
Image via Shutterstock
Google, the Internet search engine giant, this year unveiled a fiber-optic service that promises connection speeds of one gigabit per second – 100 times faster than basic broadband. Google Fiber can reach 1000mbps, a speed that would render any download instantaneous.
It means a lot more than not having to wait for “The Hangover Part III” or a season of “Breaking Bad” to load to your laptop. Such speeds would enable non-buffered video conferencing that could change the face of education and healthcare.
Google Fiber ventures into crystal-clear HD TV, too. Google TV can record eight programs at once, use a Nexus 7 as a universal remote, and has a terabyte of cloud storage to go with it.
What has Google Fiber's appearance on the Internet-provider scene meant for the Web overall?
Slow and deliberate growth
Google Fiber's the answer to all your high-speed needs – so long as you live in Austin, Texas; Kansas City or Provo, Utah.
Google chose Kansas City from among 1,100 entries in a contest to host the company's first fiber network. Cities went batty for a leg up. Topeka, Kan., even renamed itself "Google." Duluth's mayor jokingly promised that every first-born child in town would be named Google Fiber or Googlette Fiber.
Greenville, S.C., created a human-glowstick spectacle of itself to capture Google's attention.
Rumors that New York City would be next for fiber didn't materialize, leaving analysts to question Google's intent. Time Magazine came right out to accuse Google of concocting Fiber solely to spur Internet providers to offer revved up speeds – so that Google searches could move faster.
Is that the driving force behind Google Fiber?
The answer isn't completely clear – but other providers have responded with faster speeds.
Everyone's got a gigabit
Well, not everyone. But Google's benchmark speed – whether the start of a nationwide initiative or just a hot prod for the market – has activated a movement for Internet providers to step it up.
CenturyLink rolled out plans for gigabit service in Las Vegas. Spiral Communications just began engineering studies to create gigabit Internet for Nebraska City, Neb.
Other companies – from Canadian providers Shaw and OneGigabit to VTel to Burlington Telecom – offer super speeds, at super-high prices. LUS Fiber in Lafayette, La., will bill you a gaudy $999.95 per month for a gigabit each, upload and download.
Google's gigabit Internet has options at $70 and $120 per month (gigabit plus TV), and has a free plan if you pay the construction fee.
MIT Technology Review reports that profit margins for major cable Internet players Comcast and Time Warner Cable are an incredible 97 percent. Will Google Fiber's presence – or the threat of other carriers following through on the promise to provide gigabit speeds – usher an era of change, or complacency?
The Federal Communications Commission threw down a Gigabit City Challenge recently, intent on each state in the union having a gigabit network in place in at least one city by 2015.
That's created a new battleground between municipalities and Internet providers, great and small. The playing field within that battleground, though, could see public/private partnerships lead the way in maximizing the capacity for cities nationwide to support Internet super speeds.
Ironically, gigabit Internet's sprawl might develop slowly. But the standard Google Fiber sets – and discussions of other carriers' capacity and willingness to up their product offerings –have at least begun the conversation.
Chris Beck is a well published freelance writer in the insurance and tech space. Originally from Asheville, N.C., and a University of South Carolina Alum, he graduated with a degree in Journalism.
Edited by Alisen Downey