The Wait-for-Google-to-Do-It Strategy

By | June 23, 2015

America’s communications ­infrastructure is finally getting some crucial upgrades because one company is forcing ­competition when regulators won’t.
It’s too often said that some event “changed everything” in technology. But when it comes to the history of broadband in the United States, Google Fiber really did. Before February 2010, when Google asked cities to apply to be first in line for the fiber-optic lines it would install to deliver Internet service to homes at a gigabit per second, the prospects for upgrading Americans’ wired broadband connections looked dismal. The Federal Communications Commission was on the verge of releasing its first National Broadband Plan, which stressed the importance of affordable, abundant bandwidth and the need to spread it by “overbuilding”—stringing fiber to houses and businesses even if they already had service over cable and phone lines with relatively low capacity. Yet at the time, as Blair Levin, executive director of the broadband plan, told me, “for the first time since 1994, there was no national provider with plans to overbuild the current network.”

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