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FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski must be paying attention to efforts like Google’s and the City of Seattle’s Gigabit Internet projects, as he’s now pushing for at least one community in all 50 states to establish Gigabit Internet service by 2015.

Dubbed the “Gigabit City Challenge,” Genachowski sees higher Internet speeds as a way to grow the economy through new business ventures. “American economic history teaches a clear lesson about infrastructure. If we build it, innovation will come,” Genachowski said, adding that such high-speed connections are important so that “innovators can develop next-generation applications and services that will drive economic growth and global competitiveness.”

Gigabit Internet connections are substantially faster than most connections offered today by services like Comcast’s Xfinity and Verizon’s FiOS. Xfinity’s top-tier plan tops out at 105 Mbps for $105 a month, while FiOS offers an “Ultimate” plan that boasts 300 Mbps download speeds for $210 a month. These options, while slower, cost much more than Google Fiber’s Gigabit plan, which rings up at $70 a month. The City of Seattle announced its plans in December to build out its own Gigabit Internet service in several communities, but information on pricing and availability is still unknown.

To aid communities in rolling out Gigabit Internet, Genachowski also announced that the FCC will build an online clearinghouse containing information on best practices for quickly building out Gigabit infrastructures at lower costs. The FCC will also host workshops where leaders from local governments can meet with representatives from broadband Internet providers to get the ball rolling on Gigabit network installations.

Gigabit Internet will undoubtedly be vital to the U.S. as a means for startups and citizens to keep up with more technologically-advanced countries. The average Internet speed in South Korea, for example, is 15.7 Mbps — first in the world in that category. The United States comes in at #12, with average broadband speeds of 6.7 Mbps. Our own Jeff Weisbein found that his 75 Mbps FiOS plan put him higher than 99% of all other broadband users in the country. In the new Internet economy, the ability to download and upload more data at a faster rate plays a big role in terms of how much companies are able to innovate with Web-based services, and that role is only going to grow larger with time.

I look forward to seeing which communities accept Mr. Genachowski’s challenge and plan Gigabit roll-outs of their own. With the startup interest Kansas City has been generating thanks to the Google Fiber project, it might be a good way to help improve local economies and pull in some good PR, to boot.


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