Gigabit Internet access is key to the future of our cities. It's time to start expecting it and planning for it.
How will your city get gigabit fiber optic Internet access -- and how soon?
If your city council can't answer these questions, it's time to start working on them. Companies worldwide are competing with city networks to offer Web access much faster than the fastest average connections offered today.
Specifically, we're talking about access of one gigabit per second (1 Gbit/s). That's a market-changing rate, considering how it dramatically improves the speed at which users can download video, TV, games, medical applications and research files. So far, even the world's fastest Internet city -- Seoul -- offers a mean throughput rate of just 41.4 Mbit/s.
Across North America, where broadband rollout has been relatively slow, gigabit networks are popping up in a range of cities, thanks to public-private partnerships. Examples include Gigabit Chicago and Gigabit Seattle, projects undertaken by these cities and an Ohio company called Gigabit Squared, as well as Google Fiber, offered on both the Missouri and Kansas sides of Kansas City, and services in Vancouver supplied by OneGigabit.
These services are the pride of cities lucky enough to get them. Among the benefits are residential access that's roughly an order of magnitude better than competing services. In Kansas City, Google's service has been credited with attracting a startup cluster. Ditto for Chattanooga and Seattle.
The challenge for cities, of course, is to get gigabit connectivity established. It's not easy. Fiber networking, the fundamental building block, is prohibitively costly for most cities, so government assistance, private donations, commercial backing and a lot of creativity are typically required to get a network in place. Even with these elements, success is far from guaranteed.