Google's brilliant new plan to provide super-speedy Internet access.

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
Feb. 18 2010 5:00 PM

Faster, Faster!

Google's brilliant new plan to provide super-speedy Internet access.

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There's a simple reason we lag so far behind: American broadband companies face no real competition. Most of us can get the Internet in just two ways—through our local cable company or our local phone company—and a lot of us have only one provider. Telecom firms have you hooked, so they see no real incentive in improving their service. That's precisely why Google's effort could become a catalyst for change. Google already knows how to manage large, high-speed networks on the cheap; it runs the most advanced data centers in the world and has unmatched power in moving bits across continents. Google hasn't announced prices for 1GB Internet service, but its network prowess suggests it will be able to charge much less than phone or cable firms. In certain communities, cheap, fast broadband—combined with the satisfaction of kissing off your cable or phone company—will prove irresistible.

Of course, Google's efforts aren't altruistic. The faster our Internet access, the more money Google makes. As a result, the company is obsessive about speed, and its engineers are constantly looking for ways to rocket Google's content into our homes. Some of Google's most basic design choices were made out of a consideration for speed. Why do we get 10 results when we search for something, rather than 20 or 30? Because sending more results adds about a half-second of load time to each search. A half-second doesn't sound like much, but in Google's tests, the extra time turned people off; those who got 30 results instead of 10 conducted 25 percent fewer searches.

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But it's not just Google that will benefit from a faster Internet. We all will. On a 1 GB line you'll be able to download a high-definition movie in just a few minutes. Because all your music will live on servers, you'll be able to access it everywhere. You'll get crystal-clear voice and video calls, and you'll have the ability to play graphics-intensive video games on remote consoles. Many businesses are already investing heavily in immersive video-conferencing systems that use HD cameras and projectors to create "lifelike" meetings between people on different continents; these systems, which require huge broadband pipes, could cut travel costs and boost teamwork between far-flung employees. Then there are the possibilities for remote robotic surgery—the promise that doctors far away could reach out through the Internet to fix you up, even if you live nowhere near a world-class hospital.

And those are just the fantasies we can dream of. The Internet, as we've all seen, is a foundational technology—a platform that constantly gives life to great things we'd never even thought of in the past. A faster Internet just boosts that promise. Let's all thank Google for investing in it.

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Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.