Proof Network Investment and Innovation Matter to the Future of the Internet
The news this week that Google will be building and testing ultra-fast fiber-optic networks in selected cities is good news for customers and good news for the industry. As I have said and written many times, the private sector provides the capital, which fosters competition, that allows expansion, leading to new jobs – not just new jobs in old companies, but new jobs in companies that did not, and could not, have existed before.
While it remains to be seen how widespread Google’s test will be, the FCC should take note that it is the extraordinary success that Google has enjoyed as a search and applications platform as well as one of America’s premiere advertising media that has generated the cash necessary to engage in this kind of high-capital cost experiment.
Google was incorporated in September, 1998 – just over a dozen years ago. While doing a Google search (or Yahoo, or Bing for that matter) is possible over dial-up connections, there is no question that none of those search engines are as useful without a broadband connection to the internet. It’s the network of networks which make content applications like Google possible. Internet access makes Google possible. And it’s private investment by broadband companies which makes future Google success stories possible.
We are all familiar with the history of the internet from a DARPA project to two computers in California sending a few characters from a computer on one campus to a computer on another campus. We remember that Yahoo began as a text-only catalog of new websites in the early-1990’s and the concept of the web browser, as we know it today, was developed at the University of Illinois which, along with the development of HTML as the de facto language of the web, has led us to where we are today.
None of that would have been possible without the hundreds of billions of dollars invested by private network providers so that the information we were looking for could be found and, no matter how many thousands of miles away it might be physically housed, it showed up on our desktop, 30 inches away.
So, if we look at the development of the internet as we know it today it is clear that the best way to innovation is for the government, academia, and private corporations to cooperate – each building on what the other can provide.
What we have to very careful about is allowing one of the legs of that stool, either by design or by accident, to cut off one of the other legs.
While the Google experiment is one we will all watch closely, we should keep in mind that it will be necessarily limited in scale and scope. In its blog Google stated clearly that its experiment “is test bed approach and is not intended to supplant what [broadband providers] do in the market. Google’s project is estimated to cost between $60 million and $1.2 billion. The national network providers have spent over $100 billion in the past two years building out and upgrading their networks such that over 80 percent of the American population now has access to a broadband connection to the internet.
While providing 1 gigabyte speeds over a limited area will provide a good test of network hardware and software, as well as network management techniques, the existing network providers have taken on the daunting task of bringing high-speed internet connections to every household and every business in America.
As the FCC completes its work on a National Broadband Policy, it should keep in mind that it should promote competition, foster innovation, and encourage all three of the historical partners in the development of the internet to continue and enhance that partnership.