The advent of gigabit-fast broadband might also open the door to a whole new generation of Google services, which might fully exploit and rely on really fast speeds.
It wouldn't be the first time Google has jumped into a new technology space to raise the level of play for all the players there.
When Google wanted to influence the smartphone market to produce the kind of smartphones that would showcase its Android operating system, it decided to make a phone—the Nexus One. The phone, which was manufactured by HTC and released in January 2010, was the first in a series of Nexus phones designed by Google and manufactured by partner phone makers.
Google did the same thing with tablets, working with Asus on the Nexus 7 tablet, which became the 7-inch Android tablet against which all others were measured. It has sold very well—around 7 million so far.
Moffett also suggests in the brief that even if Google doesn't force more fiber broadband providers into the market for competitive reasons, it might at least bring about a regulatory environment that's more favorable to would-be fiber ISPs.
In Austin, AT&T said it would only launch a fiber service if it could get the same sweet regulatory deal that Google got. Namely, Moffett says, Google was granted permission to plant its fiber in neighborhoods where the residents can afford $150 a month cable bills. This made the idea of digging trenches and dropping fiber sound like a little less of a headache to AT&T.
An AT&T spokesperson told me that she couldn't comment on the regulatory picture or on the timing of AT&T's foray into fiber broadband, but said Austin was a good place for it.
"In Austin we have some lab facilities, we develop a lot of our research features there, and with the universities there, and with South by Southwest, it's definitely a big tech town," she said. "Austin is just the first city where we're doing this, but it definitely won't be the last, she added.
Before the fiber
Today, before the fiber services launch, Austinites have become accustomed to mediocre broadband service at premium prices. Just like everybody else in the United States.
In Central Austin's 78704 area code, AT&T's fastest broadband tier available today runs at "up to 24 mbps" and costs $66 per month. How close, and how consistently, the service comes to that top speed depends on how far you live from the fiber node in your neighborhood. That node is served by fiber optic cable, but connects to your house via a standard copper phone line.
Time Warner Cable's fastest tier in the same neighborhood is $75 per month for 50 mbps. The company gets one and half stars out of five at its Yelp page for Austin. One Yelper comments: "I could have invented the Internet in the time I have spent on hold with Time Warner Cable."
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