Brandon Schatz has some choice words for major Internet providers like Time Warner, Mediacom, and Comcast. "Those company are just really screwing us," he says. By "us," he means entrepreneurs.
Schatz is CEO of SportsPhotos.com, a Web platform for event photographers, where his team often needs to upload 15,000 to 20,000 photos at a time. It requires so much bandwith that photos can take two days or more to load--that is, if the connection doesn't drop first. What's more, when Schatz founded his company in Springfield, Missouri, back in 2012, he was paying $400 a month for Internet. That's twice as much as his utility bill cost. "Utilities are powered by power plants. You can't tell me that's less expensive than transferring data," says Schatz. "These Internet companies have infrastructure to pay for, sure, but after that, there's no reason for them to gouge us like they do."
Which is why when Schatz found out that Google Fiber, an Internet service that's up to 100 times faster than basic broadband, was coming to Kansas City (and for just $70 a month, no less) he packed up and moved two and a half hours north to get in on the action.
Since Schatz joined another 25 startups in the Kansas City Startup Village, a Fiber-connected residential neighborhood, back in 2013, Google has since rolled out Fiber networks in Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah. Then, last week, the tech giant announced it was in talks with 34 other cities, from Portland to Atlanta, that could get access to Fiber as early as this year. If you're an entrepreneur in one of those cities, you've got to be asking yourself: what's in it for me?
Is Google Fiber Worth the Hype?
The short answer is, it depends on the type of company you're running. For Schatz and other entrepreneurs running multimedia-rich businesses, Fiber is a life-saver but for most companies in today's world, admits Ryan Weber, president of the Kansas City technology council KCNext, "It's a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have.'"
That is, for now.
The fact is, you probably don't need to use a gigabit a second when you're building something like a simple mobile application, but that doesn't mean there aren't other, less obvious advantages to being a startup in a Fiber-connected city. For starters, it helps support entrepreneurship in those cities. Fiber's entry into Kansas City brought with it high-profile investors like Brad Feld, who bought a home in the so-called "fiberhood," and launched a contest for entrepreneurs who wanted to live and work in the house rent-free. Interest like that, coupled with the novelty of Fiber, have resulted in a good deal of publicity for Kansas City's entrepreneurs, who have become something of a mouthpiece for the industry.
"We've had quite a few individuals from the newly selected cities reach out to us for comments on Google Fiber," says Matthew Marcus, co-founder of the event marketing startup Hoopla.io and co-leader of Kansas City Startup Village. "Back in the lime light we go."
Marcus is willing to admit that since getting Fiber, not much has changed about the way he operates his business, but that doesn't mean he's any less pumped about the possibilities. He likens this first phase of Fiber to the emergence of faster computer processing. "The first computer, by today's standards, you'd be like, 'This isn't even usable,'" Marcus says. "Computing processing is faster. Everything we use on a daily basis is faster. It makes sense our Internet connection needs to get faster."
What a Fiber Future Looks Like
So far, Kansas City startups have been limited by the fact that only people in their immediate vicinity have access to Fiber. But if it goes mainstream, which Google is pushing hard with its rapid expansion of Fiber, both Marcus and Weber expect to see a new generation of startups building products that may never before have been thought possible. The gaming and big data industries are two big spaces to watch. "This is not about how we're using the Internet today. It's about how we're going to use the Internet in the next five to 10 years," Weber says.
Marcus agrees. "As more people have access to Fiber, developers are going to say, 'Sorry, Houston. You don't have Google Fiber, so you can't use this product,'" he says. "Fiber supports innovation and ideation, and lets entrepreneurs think outside the box."
But in order to enable such widespread adoption, Google will have to prepare itself for battle. Already, major Internet providers are trying to stonewall Fiber's deployment. According to The Wall Street Journal, AT&T is denying Google access to its utility poles in Austin.
Schatz, for one, is already dreaming of the day when those top dogs are dethroned, and both he and his customers are living in a Fiber-fueled world. He envisions serving up photos that are dramatically higher quality, because they won't take forever to load on a user's computer. "Right now, we optimize for the lowest common denominator. We plan for slow connections," he says. "With mainstream Fiber, we could have higher quality everything."
So if Google Fiber is coming to a city near you, don't expect it to change your life today, or even next year. Instead, think of it as something you'll be very glad to have in the future. "Today, you can get by without it, but in technology, getting by is a very bad thing," says Weber. "You want to be on the cutting edge."