Google Fiber for Asheville

Google Fiber for Communities is a new initiative being launched by Google which aims to bring gigabit Internet access to homes within a community yet to be selected. Why does Asheville and the surrounding areas need Internet access which is 100 times faster than the typical broadband connection today? Read on.

Why Gigabit Internet Access?

First, why would anyone need gigabit Internet access? With traditional broadband speeds approaching 10 Mbps, consumers can already stream live videos to their TVs, listen to podcasts and broadcast webcams of their children to their grandparents.

Three reasons:

  1. Home Healthcare
    The doctor’s office of the future will be your own house. From portable full body imaging to robotic telemedicine to multimedia monitoring of home health patients, remote medicine will increase the speed of services and give rural residents access to a greater range of experts.

    Full body imaging today requires going to a clinic to get an MRI scan. But scanning technology continues to shrink, and someday soon we’ll have the technology to perform full body scans at home using portable scanners. Getting all the data a scan produces to a doctor for evaluation, especially in an emergency when every minute counts, requires lots of bandwidth. Even more so if you have to send a history of scans. Gigabit Internet access can help.

    Robots controlled by doctors can interact with patients today. Soon they’ll have real-time 3D immersive views of a patient, overlaying real-time scans with video. Robotic arms will allow a doctor to treat a patient at the point of emergency, saving critical minutes. Local clinics can serve as remote surgery and treatment centers, with expert doctors treating patients remotely over the Internet. All of which requires massive amounts of bandwidth.

    “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”. Remember the days when home health monitoring meant wearing a pager around your neck. Today home health monitoring today can be done with webcams and remote monitoring systems. But imagine a future with high-definition, stereoscopic, full-spectrum cameras monitoring every room, instantly detecting when your grandmother falls or her temperature begins to drop.

  2. Remote Employment
    Rural workers today have it tough two ways: the economy and their location. Either way, jobs are hard to come by. Thus far remote workers have generally been knowledge workers working from home. Factory workers, healthcare professionals and others have been left out of the remote work revolution.

    A combination of high bandwidth access and human-controlled robotics will allow workers to work remotely in an ever increasing number of fields, allowing workforces to be allocated geographically in real-time to where their experience is needed most. From oil rigs to telemedicine to construction, remotely controlled robots controlled by trained humans will become the norm. Assuming, of course, the bandwidth exists to support these applications.

    For existing remote workers, at-home telepresence will radically alter the work experience. While workers today can use webcams for one-on-one meetings, most group meetings are still done by telephone. Telepresence, with its ability to broadcast multiple super-high-def images, allows a true in-person experience for each member of the meeting. With the prices of flatscreen monitors and webcams continuing to plummet, the only thing preventing at-home telepresence from being a reality is bandwidth.

  3. Rural Education
    For poor rural families, the educational choices parents have for their child are slim. The local school may not have the programs that tap into their child’s full potential. Yet they cannot afford to send their child to a private boarding school. Many rural communities may have magnet schools that are too far to attend.

    At-home and in-school telepresence becomes the key which unlocks new possibilities. By allowing students to attend classes remotely, schools can provide higher level courses with specialized teachers. Schools with limited funding can take virtual school trips to exotic locations.

    Virtual reality environments add to the educational experience by allowing science and history to be taught in historic and experimental worlds. And virtual reality can be used in assisted learning situations to help disabled students learn more effectively. While virtual reality environments today are isolated, in the future, collaborative environments will require massive bandwidth to maintain real-time interaction capabilities.

So gigabit bandwidth has many possible uses, but why Asheville and the surrounding areas?

Why Gigabit Access in Asheville?

Asheville is uniquely suited to experimenting with gigabit access for three reasons:

  1. Demographics
    Consistently ranked one of the top places to live, Asheville has become a retirement mecca. With a history of healthcare dating back to the late 1800′s, Asheville has a strong and vibrant healthcare community focused on the issues of older adults. The needs of these older adults will drive adoption of the advanced home health technology that requires ultra-high speed Internet access.

    Known for its quality of life, Asheville is also home to many remote workers. From virtual small businesses to professionals working for large Fortune 500 companies remotely, Asheville struggles to support these remote workers with its current infrastructure.

  2. Local Resources
    Asheville’s local resources include Mission Hospital, a hospital known nationally for its cardiology program; ERC Broadband, a non-profit network provider to regional healthcare, educational and government institutions; the National Climatic Data Center, storing all the weather data collected by the federal government; and many local business support organizations such as the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, Meet the Geeks and Mountain BizWorks. And Asheville is only 70 miles from a major Google data center in Lenoir, NC.
  3. Culture
    An early adopter culture driven by artists and entrepreneurs creates a ripe environment for innovation around gigabit Internet access. Local companies have core compentencies in areas ripe for development. Elumenati creates immersive virtual reality environments. Community Care Partners, a home health provider, plans to roll out mobile electronic health records. Mission Hospital participates in the UNC telemedicine network.

One Last Reason

Google can take advantage of the proximity of its recently opened data center in Lenoir, NC to build a pipe which not only connects Asheville to Google, but connects Google to the National Climatic Data Center archives. Access to the archives and real-time weather data would enable Google to launch Google Weather and Google Weather Enterprise, providing weather data to consumers and businesses.

As Google diversifies its business, providing access to weather data for business intelligence aligns well with its existing Google Maps Enterprise product. The retail, construction and financial services industries can all benefit from real-time weather intelligence linked to Google Maps.

Imagine a retail store able to optimize its layout to maximize revenue based on predicted weather conditions. Or removing weather variations from its daily store performance data in the same way businesses remove seasonal variations when analyzing monthly performance. Hedge funds can link weather data into stock performance to identify new correlations and trading strategies, while construction firms can minimize losses by including historical weather information in the planning process.

Summary

In the end, Asheville has unique demographics, resources and culture that are ideally suited for next-generation ultra-high-bandwidth applications. And a Google presence in Asheville provides it with the relationships and access needed to launch a valuable new product.

7 comments

  1. eXapath says:

    Trevor,

    This is an excellent post. You've captured many of the practical reasons for having high speed access in your writing…while they may seem somewhat futuristic to most readers it's important to recognize that the technology for deploying such applications exist to day…but are limited in deployment by the capacity of the pipeline connecting to our homes.

    The Google trials promise to break traditional telecommunications paradigms, reset consumer expectations, introduce ISP competition…and, in my opinion, usher in a new era of home technology capability.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Pam Lewis says:

    Great practical and clear thoughts on what this type of connectivity could do to transform our region. Thank you Trevor!

  3. Egg says:

    Well argued. I assume you've sent this to Google as well?

  4. Tim says:

    very cool…is this a speculative plea for Google to embrace Asheville, or is there any kind of a timeframe here?

  5. clark says:

    Well said! I couldn't agree more and think Asheville represents a best case test market for a service like this.

  6. ThomRansom says:

    It's nice to see someone put together a list of benefits, and to have some of those be exclusive to Asheville (healthcare being one of the main employers of the city). Do you have any other resources for information on the benefits of Google fiber?

  7. Trevor says:

    @Egg: Yes, I nominated Asheville using the link below.

    @Tim: This is for a specific RFP that Google has sent out. The deadline is March 26th. See http://www.google.com/appserve/fiberrfi/ for more info. Click Get Involved and Nominate Your Community to send in your support for Asheville.

    @ThomRansom: Many of the applications of gigabit connectivity are well known. A good starting list the Cisco put together is at http://gigaom.com/2008/08/12/why-we-need-fat-pipes-the-top-5-bandwidth-hungry-apps/ .

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