The US ranks 28th in broadband internet access, according to a report released last summer.

The U.S. ranks 28th in broadband internet access, according to a report released last summer.

Google Inc. plans to build a handful of experimental internet networks around the country to ensure that tomorrow’s systems can keep up with online video and other advanced applications that the company will want to deliver. The internet search giant’s plans would include connection speeds 100 times faster than today’s connections, and could be key for rural colleges hoping to expand broadband web access to students and faculty.

The Google project, announced Feb. 10, is also intended to provide a platform for outside developers to create and try out all sorts of cutting-edge applications that will require far more bandwidth than today’s networks offer.

The company said its fiber-optic broadband networks will deliver speeds of 1 gigabit per second to as many as 500,000 Americans.

The systems will be many times faster than the existing DSL, cable, and fiber-optic networks that connect most U.S. consumers to the internet today at speeds typically ranging from 3 megabits to 20 megabits per second.

Google envisions systems that will let consumers download a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes, allow rural health clinics to send 3-D medical images over the web, and let students collaborate with classmates around the world while watching live 3-D video of a university lecture.

“Network providers are making real progress to expand and improve high-speed internet access, but there’s still more to be done,” Google’s official blog said. “We don’t think we have all the answers – but through our trial, we hope to make a meaningful contribution to the shared goal of delivering faster and better internet for everyone.”

Company officials said participants in Google’s upcoming trial would test the limits of what can be done with a powerful web connection.

“Our goal is to trial new technologies and figure out what kinds of applications you can send over these big pipes,” said Richard Whitt, Google’s Washington-based counsel for telecommunications and media. “There may be next-generation applications that are being held back right now.”

A recent report titled “3-D TV: Where Are We Now and Where Are Consumers” explores how 3-D video might be used in K-12 schools and college campuses some day. 3-D projectors are available already, and technology experts say they soon could be commonplace in classrooms. (See “eSN Special Report: Learning in 3-D.”)

“As educators, we all too often are required out of necessity to make students take three-dimensional concepts and try to learn them in a two-dimensional perspective,” said Stan Silverman, professor at the New York Institute of Technology’s School of Education. “This disconnect creates a gap in learning between those who naturally can map back to three dimensions and those who can’t.”

Whitt said Google isn’t looking to compete head-to-head with the phone and cable companies that dominate the U.S. broadband business.

Rather, he said, Google hopes its project will help advance new broadband applications and network technology and help identify ways to bring fiber-optic connections to more Americans at a lower cost.

The announcement came as welcome news to public-interest groups that have warned that broadband connections in the U.S. are far slower and more expensive than those available in many industrialized countries in Europe and Asia.

Although there are other ultra-fast networks in the United States—such as Internet2, which is run by a consortium of universities, corporations, government agencies, and laboratories—those are not available to general consumers.


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