March 26th, 2010
It has been just over six weeks since Google announced the Fiber to the Universe experimental network initiative. As I’ve occasionally noted here, the response has been bewilderingly enthusiastic. Fraptious even, as Johnny Depp might say. Six hundred-plus communities have applied to become the next G-spot. 190,000 individuals have applied for who-knows-what (wire me?). Al Franken made a video supporting Duluth. Topeka changed its name to Google. Rancho Cucamonga asked all their citizens to sign up for Gmail. I kid you not.
What particular chord got struck here? Why does everyone want in on Google’s tea party?
Much may be blamed on the continuing dismal state of the US economy. Topeka’s major industrial employers include the Burlington Northern railroad, Frito-Lay, Goodyear, and Hill’s Pet Nutrition. The biggest employer is the State of Kansas. Someone could be hoping that a little bit of Silicon Valley sunshine might flow through the G fibers (although that someone probably hasn’t seen the number of empty parking lots in Fremont lately — Kansas unemployment was 6.8% in February; California came in at nearly double, 12.5%).
I’d rather think that this is less about desperation and more about an optimistic embrace of the salutary powers of a network-based economy. To judge from the response, there is a broadly held conviction that high speed access networks have a transformative economical and social potency that borders on the magical. They’re fast. They’re green. They breed jobs like rabbits. Jobs you can do in your pyjamas on eBay. The flip side of the dream is that there seems to be just as broadly held a conviction that the current pace of deployment by incumbent carriers is cheating a huge swath of the country from a nirvana that is both possible and tantalizingly close.
Put it together and it looks like a classic case of frustrated demand. It bodes well for alternative providers of high speed access solutions. Given Google’s stated aim of reaching a population of no more than 500,000 with its Gnetwork, it’s unlikely to spell a major reordering of the telecom marketplace led from Mountain View.