Google Fiber in Kansas City, Kan., free to schools, available to public in 2012
Google detailed on Wednesday its Google Fiber Internet service, which will launch first in Kansas City, Kan., promising free broadband Web access for schools and speeds 100 times faster than the current average.
"In about 1995, 15 years ago roughly, everyone was living on 56 kilobits, and it was awful," said Patrick Pichette, Google's chief financial officer. "And then somebody invented a 5-meg modem, and everybody was saying, what are you going to do with 5 megs. ... Think what you're going to do with a gigabit; 1,000 megabits."
Pichette spoke before a packed auditorium at Kansas City's Wyandotte High School about the possibilities for consumers with 1-gigabit, fiber-optic connection. Also on hand were Google's vice president of access services, Milo Medin; Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Joe Reardon; and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
The anouncement was streamed live on Google's YouTube channel.
Speaking before a crowd that looked to be made up mostly of adults despite taking place in a high school, Gov. Brownback envisioned doctors at the University of Kansas Medical Center using such high speeds to monitor patients over the Web, rather than having to bring people in for appointments.
Medin and Pichette said the "ultra-fast" connections could lead to technologies not yet developed or even imagined.
Mayor Reardon said his son was excited about the prospect of being able to play video games online with friends without interruption.
"He hugged me; he's a PS3 gamer, and he said, 'You mean it's not going to freeze up on me anymore? You need to get that done tomorrow,' " Reardon said, eliciting laughs from the audience.
But although Kansas City, Kan., has been selected as Google Fiber's launchpad, an exact launch date has not been set, Medin said.
"We're not exactly sure until we get the engineering and planning done but [are] hoping to offer service in 2012," he said, likely disappointing the mayor's son.
One detail Google has yet to get into for its Google Fiber service is just how much it will cost consumers. But once Google does roll out its broadband service, the differences in speed will be impressive, Pichette said.
"Speed matters, speed matters immensely," he said. "Speed is like oxygen; when you have it you take it for granted. Once you don't have it, you realize it's everything."
Although Kansas City, Kan., is set to be the first to get Google Fiber service, the plan is to roll it out to more cities and get the nation up to broadband speed. Most U.S. homes currently paying for high-speed Internet connections are receiving data at less than 10 megabits a second.
"Over 1,100 cities showed up and said, 'I'm ready for this,' " Pichette said. "Clearly, America has voted: They want higher speed, faster speed. They want the next-generation Web today."
-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: Google Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette announces Kansas City, Kan., as the first city where it will offer its Google Fiber service, on March 30, 2011, at Wyandotte High School. Credit: David Eulitt / Kansas City Star/MCT