During my time in Kansas, when I finally got some free time with a machine connected to Google Fiber, I couldn’t find any better answers for what I should do with it. My first instinct was to try out all the things that strain today’s Internet lines—I loaded up a lot of Web pages, I tried to stream lots of videos, and I even attempted to illegally download some movies. Those things worked perfectly well. And then I didn’t know what else to do. I had finally found the broadband nirvana I’d always dreamed about. So why was I so bored?
The inability to anticipate the utility of Google Fiber is understandable. Thomas Watson, the legendary IBM CEO, is often quoted as having said, in 1943, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Similarly there’s a story that Bill Gates once declared that “640k is more memory that anyone will ever need.” These are both misquotes, but they each get at the way today’s technological needs can blind us to tomorrow’s possibilities. After all, it was true that, in the 1940s, most people didn’t need a computer. In order for us to get to a time when computers could be personal machines, we had to enter a cycle in which computers would gradually offer more and more utility, creating wider demand, which would in turn prompt more uses for PCs, and so on and so forth until we all had Windows.
Gigabit broadband is like that. For it to become truly useful and necessary, we’ll need to see a long-term feedback loop of utility and acceptance. First, super-fast lines must allow us to do things that we can’t do with the pedestrian Internet. This will prompt more people to demand gigabit lines, which will in turn invite developers to create more apps that require high speed, and so on. What I discovered in Kansas City is that this cycle has not yet begun. Or, as Ars Technica put it recently, “The rest of the Internet is too slow for Google Fiber.”
All of what Manjoo says is true. People don’t know what do with Google Fiber because they can’t really do anything with it. However, there’s nothing wrong with having the fastest internet service at a drastically cheap price. If Google can roll this out to more cities, I’d wager we’ll understand what it’s capable of in due time. As Manjoo notes in his follow-up story, not even Google will say if it has concrete plans for expanding the service.