Google said Wednesday it would build a super high-speed broadband network for up to half a million people around the United States in order to experiment with the possibilities of a network running at 100 times current speeds.
The company has long argued that it can sell more Web ads - the way it makes money - by encouraging Internet use. It imagines three-dimensional conferencing and classes, faster movie downloads and new businesses taking advantage of the speeds that are only theoretical for most people now.
Google said it would use fibre optic lines to the home, the same technology used by many telecommunications companies, but declined to give details about whether it would build, buy or rent such services and how much the venture would cost.
The move, which follows successful and aborted attempts to launch wireless Internet networks in some U.S. cities, could put Google in direct competition with the likes of AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., although one analyst did not see the move as a new stand-alone business for the search company.
"That's not the point. These are test beds, not vast geographical networks," said Art Brodsky, spokesman for public interest group Public Knowledge.
A Verizon spokesman described the Google move as a "new paragraph" in the "exciting story" of Internet development.
Google, in a blog describing the network, imagined a New York doctor discussing and looking at three-dimensional medical images with a patient far away, students joining a class from various locations in 3-D, or simply downloading a high-definition movie very fast.
It asked cities and states interested in joining the experiment to apply to Google by March 26 and said it eventually would build the network in a number of U.S. locations.
AT SPEEDS MORE THAN 100 TIMES FASTER
Oppenheimer & Co analyst Timothy Horan said he suspected the cost of building out the broadband network would cost about $1,000 to $2,000 per subscriber if Google bought unused fibre lines already underneath many cities.
"They can buy a lot of this stuff fairly inexpensively that's out there already," he said, adding that communications service provider Level 3 Communications Inc. owns a lot of those unused lines.
"We'll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fibre-to-the-home connections," Google product managers Minnie Ingersoll and James Kelly wrote in a blog post.
Google's Ingersoll also said that once established, the company wanted the project to become an open-access network where the Internet giant would offer wholesale access and other businesses could offer retail services on top of the network.
"I think there are a lot of partnership opportunities, and we are definitely interested in having those discussions," Ingersoll said. As an example, she said VoIP, or telephone-over-Internet providers could offer their products and services over Google's network.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski immediately hailed the move, saying "big broadband creates big opportunities."
Google's "significant trial will provide an American test bed for the next generation of innovative, high-speed Internet apps, devices and services," Mr. Genachowski said in a statement. The FCC is about a month away from submitting a national broadband plan to Congress.
Google said it would offer the service at a "competitive price" to at least 50,000 and up to 500,000 people in a small number of locations in the United States.
Google did not say what prices would be for consumers or when the high-speed broadband network would debut.
Mountain View, California-based Google's shares fell less than 1 percent to $534.41 in midday trading on the Nasdaq.