For many, if not most, of us, the Internet is an essential work tool. It lets us send e-mails, share documents, participate in video conferences, conduct research, and browse cat videos (only during breaks, of course). Now, three communities are taking things even further, deploying widespread networks with speeds at or above 1 gigabit per second in the hopes of boosting economic development.
How fast, exactly, is 1 Gbps? Well, the average Internet speed in the United States is somewhere between 5 and 6 megabits per second, according to various reports. These 1-Gig systems, therefore, are as much as 200 times faster than the national average.
And business leaders and economic development leaders in these three regions are hoping that, if regular Internet is a good business tool, 1-Gig access will be downright transformative.
In Chattanooga, 1-Gig service has been available since 2010. Local utility company EPB installed the super-fast network while it was building a "smart grid," a electricity-delivery system that uses digital communication to improve reliability and efficiency.
The network makes Chattanooga the first city in the country in which all residents and businesses access to such high speeds, and has spawned the nickname "Gig City."
The system has already started to boost the city's economy. Several businesses -- including a cloud computing company and a green technology venture -- have opened (or are planning to open) locations in the city, adding hundreds of jobs.
Over the summer, the city played host to the "Gig Tank," a combination workshop and competition that gave entrepreneurs and college students the chance to develop new business ideas using the super-fast network. The winning start-up was Banyan, which offers an application that helps scientists and researchers collaborate. The student winner was voice translation app Babel Sushi.
Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri
Kansas City has been chosen by Google to be the first city wired up with 1-Gig service as part of the tech giant's Google Fiber program. The network will be deployed in the neighborhoods -- or "fiberhoods" as Google is calling them -- that have demonstrated the most interest by pre-registering for the service online.
In its early stages, the project is focusing on providing residential Internet and television service, but small business options are on their way, according to the Google Fiber blog. Google hopes the system will spark innovation, give students access to better education, and give the city a competitive edge in attracting new businesses.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Currently under construction, the OpenCape system will blanket southeastern Massachusetts with broadband at speeds exceeding 1 Gbps. The $40-million project, schedule for completion in early 2013, is what is known as a "middle-mile" system; that is, it will not sell access directly to consumers. Institutions and some commercial enterprises will be able to connect to the system. Eventually companies may pop up to buy and resell access to the network, providing a competitive option for individual consumers.
Business insiders on Cape Cod say the network will help strengthen the economy in the tourism-dominated region by making it easier to start and grow technology companies, graphic design businesses, and medical practices.