FCC chief calls for gigabit Internet in all 50 US states by 2015

There should be at least one community per state with 1Gbps Internet, to drive innovation, Genachowski said

Cities around the U.S. will have gigabit-speed Internet access by 2015 if the FCC's wishes come true.

All 50 states should have at least one community where consumers can get 1Gbps or faster Internet access by 2015, U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said on Friday. Speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C., he called the new push for fast networks the Gigabit City Challenge.

Gigabit-speed Internet access stimulates technology innovation and associated economic growth, Genachowski said.

"The U.S. needs a critical mass of gigabit communities nationwide so that innovators can develop next-generation applications and services that will drive economic growth and global competitiveness," Genachowski said, according to an FCC press release. He cited Google's new network in Kansas City and a fiber network built by a local utility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he said Amazon.com and other companies have created more than 3,700 new jobs over the past three years.

However, Genachowski's plans for helping to make those networks happen weren't very specific. He announced the FCC will create an online clearinghouse of best practices for raising the speed and lowering the cost of broadband, including on how to create gigabit communities. He proposed working on that clearinghouse with the Conference of Mayors. Genachowski also said the agency will hold workshops on gigabit communities, where broadband providers, state and local leaders, and others can work out problems in high-speed network creation.

Citing a statistic from the Fiber to the Home Council, a group of organizations and service providers offering fiber Internet, Genachowski said there are about 42 communities in 14 states that have "ultra-high-speed" fiber Internet access. Those services allow users to watch high-definition video, make video calls and participate in immersive educational experiences, he said.

The quality of Internet access varies widely among regions of the U.S. Residents of large cities typically have a choice of high-speed service providers, while some rural areas have few options for broadband apart from satellite. Few areas have gigabit-speed services available to consumers or small businesses.

Google's network in Kansas City, Missouri, and its neighboring city of the same name in Kansas, drew wide attention even before it was built out. In 2010, the company asked for applications from any community that wanted a gigabit-speed network, and it received so many applications it had to delay its decision.

In areas that qualified through residents applying for the service, Google is offering the 1Gbps service for US$70 per month, or $120 with TV. Residents in those areas can also choose free 5Mbps service as long as they pay $300 for the necessary equipment. Google's project has benefitted from some big public concessions in the Kansas City area, including free access to light poles for hanging fiber cables and an exemption from some fees, some observers have said.

Carriers and cable operators have fought some fiber efforts by local governments and utilities, saying they put established service providers at a disadvantage. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam said last week at the International CES trade show that his company has the network platform in place to offer 1Gbps service on its FiOS fiber service.

This isn't the federal government's first step to help foster fast fiber networks. The FCC's Broadband Acceleration Initiative is working to streamline legal access to utility poles and rights of way for fiber, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program is providing back-end fiber infrastructure to help feed the networks that reach consumers.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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