There’s been a lot of Buzz about what Google’s been up to in the last week or so. But as significant as Google’s move into social networking is, a less talked-about announcement the company made last week is the real big deal: Google’s plan to build an experimental 1 Gbps, fiber-to-the-home broadband network is likely to have a big impact on Internet policy in the US, especially net neutrality and broadband stimulus.
Google’s plan has been interpreted a number of different ways but it seems pretty clear that this is really about more than just giving developers a nice sandbox to play in and some lucky folks freaking fast Internet access. Google is very active in the goings-on at the FCC right now, including leading the advocacy for putting net neutrality principles into binding regulations for ISPs and pushing for open access standards and faster speeds to be part of the National Broadband Plan. By building this network, then, Google wants to show off to the FCC and ISPs just what an open, neutral, and really really fast network looks like. This move is consistent with the company’s propensity toward big symbolic gestures that can be influential whether or not the stated intentions actually get followed through on: its bid on wireless spectrum in 2007 was really a stunt to encourage open access and the threats to pull out of China (detailed here on Antenna by Liz Ellcessor) have not yet been acted on. This announcement alone has drummed up the kind of excitement that could work to raise the bar for the broadband deployment plan, which is especially crucial for bridging the digital divide with more than just access, but access that is open, neutral, and as fast as anyone in the world.