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The Bandwidth Race Heats Up

If you don’t live in one of the cities in which Google is going to offer their new one-gigabit Internet connections—nearly 100 times faster than the U.S. average—and a host of other services, then the new “superfast Google Fiber” (to the home) probably hasn’t been on your radar.

Google began the first rollout in November in Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, last year, offering one-gigabit Internet connections for $70 per month, or $120 with added television service, a Nexus 7 tablet remote, two terabytes of DVR storage, and another a terabyte of cloud storage.

Google has plans to rollout the service in several more Kansas locations, and next year in Austin, Texas, and in Provo, Utah. Judging by the goings-on in Kansas City, this is the start of something big. New data from Akamai shows that in the fourth quarter of 2012, Kansas saw the largest jump in average Internet connection speeds of all U.S. states (vs. fourth quarter of 2011) with an 86 percent increase.

The competition may be even hotter in the newer Google Fiber battlegrounds. When Google recently announced plans for the Austin, Texas rollout of the service in early 2014, AT&T announced it would launch its own one-gigabit service in Austin. And Time Warner Cable announced free Wi-Fi in public areas to existing customers in the Austin area.

The mass media is treating this as another telecom/internet story. But the implications for all our AV, pro video, and IT industries are huge. Of course, most of us won’t have access to Google Fiber for years to come. But this new effort is reigniting the race toward higher bandwidth that pretty much stalled out in recent years (remember all those stories of installing fiber optics to ring cities, a few years back?). Bandwidth needs are exploding. Although 4K content will not be distributed to homes for some time to come, it is being used in video production today, and is quickly gaining momentum. We are indeed laying the groundwork now, on the production side and the display side, for a 4K future.

But even with current video formats, the need for more bandwidth will increase exponentially. And Google Fiber will be a game-changer, whether or not it comes to your city.

Interestingly, one cable provider said that it had the ability to provide much faster speeds to consumers, but decided not to. Time Warner Cable CFO Irene Esteves said in February that Time Warner was “perfectly capable of delivering 1 gigabit, 10 gigabit-per-second" Internet connectivity to consumers, but that the company just “doesn't see the need of delivering that to consumers."

Also interesting– Time Warner, the nation's second-largest cable company, announced on Monday the departure of Irene Esteves, to be replaced by Arthur Minson who is returning to Time Warner as CFO after a stint at AOL. (Esteves also said, early on in her two-years at the helm, that Time Warner was not that crazy about the sports programming business– after Time Warner spent billions acquiring rights for the L.A. Lakers.)

Who can decipher of the internal politics of the cable and ISP’s. One thing’s certain: The race for more bandwidth is back on, and heating up.

David Keene is a publishing executive and editorial leader with extensive business development and content marketing experience for top industry players on all sides of the media divide: publishers, brands, and service providers. Keene is the former content director of Digital Signage Magazine.