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Google is forcing big broadband providers to boost speeds

Warren Myers, a headend manager, stands among the cables and routers at a Comcast distribution center where the Comcast regional video, high speed data and voice are piped out to customers on February 13, 2014 in Pompano Beach, Florida.
Warren Myers, a headend manager, stands among the cables and routers at a Comcast distribution center where the Comcast regional video, high speed data and voice are piped out to customers on February 13, 2014 in Pompano Beach, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

When Google first announced its plans to offer 1-gigabit-per-second broadband service back in 2010, it seemed ridiculously fast. At the time, many households had broadband speeds that were 100 times slower, and only a handful of cities had residential internet service anywhere close to 1 gigabit.

Today, Google offers gigabit in Kansas City, Austin, and Provo, Utah, and it's gearing up to offer service in several additional metro areas in the next couple of years. At the same time, incumbent cable and telephone companies have become a lot more interested in offering high-speed broadband service.

The latest example is Comcast, which announced Thursday that it would be offering 2 Gbps service in the Atlanta metropolitan area. It's probably not a coincidence that Atlanta is one of the metropolitan areas Google has selected for future expansion of its own broadband service.

AT&T has also gotten religion on gigabit broadband service in the last couple of years. The company introduced gigabit service in Austin (a Google Fiber city) in 2013, and announced last year that it would eventually expand the service to 21 cities.

Time Warner Cable has yet to join the gigabit club, but it is also in the process of dramatically increasing broadband speeds. Last year the nation's second-largest cable provider announced that it would increase its top speed tier by a factor of six, from 50 Mbps to 300 Mbps. Lower speed tiers will also see dramatic improvements. The upgrades began in New York City and Los Angeles in November, and are expected to expand to additional cities in 2015 and 2016.

The great thing about this from Google's perspective is that by directly supplying gigabit service in a handful of metropolitan areas, Google can prod incumbent broadband providers to offer faster service in areas where Google isn't directly operating. It would raise too many awkward questions if AT&T and Comcast only upgraded to gigabit speeds in Google Fiber cities. Both Comcast and AT&T have promised to offer gigabit speeds in cities where Google isn't competing. That's good for Google because faster internet connections will make all of Google's online services work better.

Disclosure: My brother is an executive at Google. Also, Comcast Ventures is an investor in Vox Media, the parent company of Vox.com.

Update: Based on a helpful tip, I added a paragraph about Time Warner Cable's recent speed increases.

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