Copyright ©2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Earlier today, Google announced it will start deploying Google Fiber in Austin, Texas. It's a high speed, very high speed, Internet network. The plans for this began almost three years ago when Google announced it would build a network in just one lucky American city. In less than two months, 1,100 communities applied. Kansas City won the prize and now that the network has been deployed there, Google is moving on to Austin.

In a few minutes, we'll hear how Google Fiber has worked out in Kansas City, but first, for more on what Google's trying to do, we're joined by NPR's technology correspondent, Steve Henn. Hey there, Steve.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Hi.

CORNISH: So first things first, just how fast is Google Fiber?

HENN: Well, it's 100 times faster than a typical cable Internet connection. So I thought one way to demonstrate this would be with my voice. If you think of my voice right now as the speed of your cable connection, this would be 10 times faster. And now, this is 100 times faster. That tiny burst of static actually contained everything I just said up 'til now just sped up 100 times.

CORNISH: OK. But why would anyone actually need an Internet connection to be that fast? And how much would it cost?

HENN: Well, Google says it will cost about as much as a cable connection does today. And the most obvious reason people might want this is it'll make services we already use much better. Right now, a cable Internet connection lets you stream a movie online. But say, if two people in your house want to watch two different movies at the same time, you'll probably have a problem.

A fiber connection's big enough to stream 10 movies at once. In fact, those movies download more quickly than you can play them, so there shouldn't be any buffering interruptions or glitches. But Google's real argument here - and one it's been making for years actually - is that if you connect American homes and businesses to the Internet at these gigabit speeds, all kinds of new Internet services and businesses which right now are basically impossible suddenly become possible.

CORNISH: Like what? What kind of businesses are we talking about?

HENN: Well, I'll give you one example. Right now, I'm working on a radio story and I'm editing all the sound together here on my PC. I own the PC and I own some sophisticated sound editing software. But if we had a fiber connection, all of that work could take place on servers. I could actually do the editing on a tablet or a smartphone and I could rent the sound editing software instead of buying it or maybe it would even be free. And when I used it, I'd just see some ads and that ad revenue would support it. I think this is sort of the vision Google has here; moving the hard work of computing into the cloud and letting people access that with devices in their pockets.

CORNISH: So it's a faster connection to the cloud, is what we're talking about.

HENN: A much, much faster connection to the cloud.

CORNISH: What's Google's ultimate goal here? I mean, do they want to get into the business of becoming an Internet service provider?

HENN: Well, clearly, Google would love to see these kinds of high-speed connections in every home across the country. The question is whether or not Google actually wants to be the company that puts those connections in, and Google's been a little bit coy about this. Executives go back and forth between describing Google Fiber as a new business or a bit of an experiment.

But one thing's clear. Unlike, say, Comcast or Time Warner, when Google hooks up a home to a fiber connection, it's not just going to be making money on the monthly fees. Strategically, Google's perfectly positioned to use these high-speed connections to make all sorts of sophisticated software and services available online for free and then support them with ads.

If you think about that, it would Google a competitive advantage against cable companies because it doesn't need to make its profit from the connections alone. And it also lets Google compete against companies like Microsoft, which right now sells software that's installed on PCs, or sell it as a service that comes with a monthly bill. So, you know, as is typically the case, I think Google's ambitions here are very, very big.

CORNISH: One more thing, Steve. Why Austin?

HENN: Well, Austin has an entrepreneurial community. It's the home of the South By Southwest Conference. I think they're hoping that when they deploy Google Fiber across that city, that entrepreneurs will do amazing and exciting things with it and will make lots of other cities excited about getting it.

CORNISH: Steve, thank you.

HENN: Thank you.

CORNISH: Steve Henn is NPR's technology correspondent and already there are signs of competition in Austin. Today, AT&T announced that it is prepared to build its own fiber optic network in Austin.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.