Google to develop fast Internet networks

WASHINGTON - Google plans to build a handful of experimental, ultra-fast Internet networks around the country to ensure that tomorrow's systems can keep up with online video and other advanced applications that the company will want to deliver.

The Google project, announced Wednesday, is also intended to provide a platform for outside developers to create and try out all sorts of cutting-edge applications that will require far more bandwidth than today's networks offer.

The company said its fiber-optic broadband networks will deliver speeds of 1 gigabit per second to as many as 500,000 Americans. The systems will be faster than the existing DSL, cable and fiber-optic networks that connect most U.S. consumers to the Internet today at speeds typically ranging from 3 megabits to 20 megabits per second.

Google envisions systems that will let consumers download a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes, allow rural health clinics to send 3-D medical images over the Web and let students collaborate with classmates around the world while watching live 3-D video of a university lecture.

Google said it isn't looking to compete head-to-head with the phone and cable companies that dominate the U.S. broadband business. Rather, Google said, it hopes its project will help advance new broadband applications and network technology and help identify ways to bring fiber-optic connections to more Americans at a lower cost.

The announcement came as welcome news to public interest groups that have warned that broadband connections in the U.S. are far slower and more expensive than those available in many industrialized countries in Europe and Asia.

Although there are other ultra-fast networks in the U.S. - such as Internet2, which is run by a consortium of universities, corporations, government agencies and laboratories - those are not available to consumers.