Way back when in 1995 I remember hearing about cable modems for the first time and how they were going to change everything about the Internet. Later how fiber optics were going to allow my phone company to deliver “every single movie ever made in every single language 24 hours a day” (or something like that, apologies to the original copy writer…)
Om Malik reports that Google wants to deliver “answers anytime anywhere to anyone, and looking beyond a desktop PC.” Their plans for free broadband in San Francisco could be an interesting pilot over time that fulfills these promises.
If they can get their QoS in San Francisco to POTS-standard, and they were to partner with a cellular provider and handset manufacturer, they could create a universal handset for San Franciscans. Certainly a wireless client can be made (this + this for instance) that will work well with what Google is already brewing, and delivers broadband access within city limits. You then can have universal voice, universal IM, and when you’re within WiFi, universal broadband Internet, delivering a lot of the types of services Google wants to sit on top of. When you’re outside of WiFi coverage you have what amounts to cell phone coverage, courtesy of your cellular provider.
From a revenue model perspective, Google could have pricing tiers which will raise some very interesting privacy questions. At free, Google will initially give away the WiFi service. I don’t think that will change.
Further down the plank of the the free tier, Google could give away even more (all voice, hardware, TV service, etc.) and in exchange you give them increasingly uncomfortable amounts of personal data. Google gets to mine your habits, location, etc. and deliver very personalized, time- and location-sensitive advertising. For San Franciscans on the free plan, Google is your gateway to the world, and the gateway into your life for anyone wanting to sell you anything. That is the power position. While advertising has the potential to get creepily sophisticated in this model, I am not opposed to this per se. I’d like to be able to opt out easily though (irrelevant to me in Denver at this point.) If our privacy and our personal data have value (which they do to too many entities anyway) I think we at least receive some value for it in this scenario. We get nothing as it is.
At the other end of the revenue model, you pay for the services you pay for now (i.e. voice, hardware, tv, etc.) and you receive certain privacy guarantees and more commercial-free programming with every dollar your spend. You as the consumer decide what tradeoffs you want to make.
It creates an interesting dichotomy to be sure, while possibly helping to bridge the digital divide. It would create a situation where the poor could be preyed upon, but it would also deliver information sharing tools that help to develop the type of keen minds that make their own choices and tune out bad programming.
I hope they get the SF contract because I would like to see what they do. If it’s a crappy land grab, it will fail, if it offers real choices it could be a model.
The big roadblock to me is how revenue sharing would work between cellular providers, handset makers, and Google, and would how quickly would the advertising become compelling enough for all the players to invest heavily in the partnership. Would incumbents like SBC and Comcast be willing to relegate themselves to being simply the big pipe and not the brand on the valve? I guess we'll wait and see.