Gigabit Internet: The fast lane on the information highway


The President is expected to lay out new ideas for speeding up the country’s Internet infrastructure Wednesday. President Obama is making his way to Cedar Falls, Iowa and is expected to present ideas for expanding broadband Internet access. But south of Cedar Falls, dozens of city leaders from across the country are meeting in Kansas City to talk about gigabit Internet and how to make it work for their towns.

Many expect fiber Internet with gigabit speed to be the future of the information highway. Many homes have Internet that operates between five and twenty megabits per second (mbps). A gigabit (gbps) is 1000 megabits.

Betty Zeman is the marketing manager for Cedar Falls Utilities, where the President is making his speech. She said gigabit speed allows homes and businesses to work faster, which for business, means saving money.

“Imagine you had a swimming pool and wanted to fill it. If you had a one-inch hose you’d fill it eventually, but if you had a fire hose you’d get it filled a lot faster. That’s the concept of the speed,” said Zeman.

Cedar Falls is one of only a handful of U.S. cities offering the one-gig Internet speed. The President put out a video highlighting how Cedar Falls laid the foundation for gigabit Internet. The President also makes the point that many U.S. cities fall behind other cities around the world when it comes to Internet speed. Metropolitan hubs like New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. have a slower connection than Cedar Falls, Iowa. While Hong Kong, Paris, and Seoul are all able to use gigabit speed.

Other places like Kansas City, MO, are well known for their use of Google-Fiber’s gigabit Internet, which allows them to have a thriving tech start-up scene and attract new businesses to the area. Matthew Marcus is a co-founder for theKansas City Startup Village (KCSV) which uses Google Fiber and the super fast Internet. It’s also where the Gigabit City Summit is taking place this week.

“It’s kind of a glimpse into the future,” said Marcus, “I have no doubt this will scale across America. Not ‘if’ but ‘when.’ And if you’re in a city with it [gigabit Internet] now you’re kind of ahead of the curve.”

In the KCSV small tech companies are able to plug into the gigabit Internet to grow. Dozens of new companies have moved to Kansas City in recent years to take part of the fiber connection and startup scene. It’s helped put the ‘silicon prairie’ on the map.

“Very few truly rely on the gig, it’s tough to take advantage of that speed,” said Marcus, “but that being said, it gives you ability to think outside the box. You could do something different just because you have the super speed.”

Marcus said having gigabit speed in Kansas City has made them a more welcoming area for innovators. And for Cedar Falls Utilities, staying ahead of the curve by installing fiber in 2013 has made them a more competitive area for attracting companies.

“If you’re a business and you need it and can’t get it, maybe you move to another town,” said Zeman, “It’s part of the necessary business structure for a business friendly town. It’s a business climate issue.”

As the world and business relies more heavily on the ability to send and receive data, a strong Internet connection is necessary for any place that wants to remain competitive. And in America, Marcus believes without better access to lightning fast speeds, it will hinder our innovators and entrepreneurs.

“America has always been innovative, and the President has pushed entrepreneurship. We’re lagging in average broadband speed than many other countries and that’s ridiculous to me,” said Marcus, “If we don’t have the tools entrepreneurs need to innovate it’s only putting them at a disadvantage.”

But a gig of Internet speed isn’t cheap. According to Zeman, at Cedar Falls Utilities most people use about 50/25mbps of download/upload speed which costs on average $45 to $50. For 1gbps/500mbps of download/upload speed it averages $135 to $140. But, Zeman says, as more places install fiber cables and build their infrastructure to be able to handle gigabit Internet, the price will go down.

“We know with the next generation of devices, especially in businesses, more and more customers will switch to the higher gears and prices will come down over time,” said Zeman.

She expects fiber Internet to spread quickly because how people use the Internet is changing to require more speed.

“Many of the tasks people do in daily life today simply require more bandwidth than they did five years ago,” said Zeman.

Both believe more access to broadband, whether it’s faster Internet speeds via coaxial cables or lightning fast through fiber cables, is better for businesses and entrepreneurs.

“Mankind will never say ‘ok it’s fast enough we’re good.’ The more speed they provide the more opportunity there is to invent and innovate,” said Marcus.

President Obama’s visit falls just one day after Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa, a Republican, announced a revamped plan to expand Internet to rural areas. The “Connect Every Acre” campaign would help get broadband access to farmland where increasingly, farmers are using high tech equipment that needs reliable Internet access.

A similar bill by Governor Branstad did not pass the state legislation last year. But the Governor is hoping the revamped version will make it through this year. If that bill passes, it would help cover the state with faster Internet, even in rural areas.

Although the President and Governor Branstad are in opposing parties, both agree more access to the digital highway is good for consumers, business, and the economy.

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