Google’s dark plans to rule the world

Goog.gifOn Monday, Google announced that it would provide a streamed broadcast of last week’s debut episode of “Everybody Hates Chris,” UPN’s sure-to-be-a-hit comedy from Chris Rock, via Google Video.

This, we think, is significant. Why?

Well, for one, we missed the ep; if you did, too, look for it here. The Google-hosted version is ad-free and fully searchable; you can search for bits of dialogue which will come up in convenient 10-second clips.

But beyond hating Chris Rock, it’s a significant move because it suggests that Google may be getting serious about hosting video on demand. Which happens to be a growing industry, that also happens to be in its very-earliest stages on the web.

Why? Because it requires a hell of a lot of bandwidth to host video, especially at feature length and quality. So, if Google Video is going to capitalize on future demand for video it’s going to need a lot of bandwidth.

Which, coincidentally, Google is lining up. As it turns out, Google has been quietly buying up miles of dark fiber across the U.S. — dormant fiber-optic cable, laid enthusiastically during the heady 90’s internet boom and all but abandoned after the bubble burst in 2000. Quick primer: fiber-optic cable has enormous bandwidth and can transport a lot more data than other connection types, via light impulses sent through a glass rod. Ergo, when it’s not in use, it’s dark.

Okay so why is all this dark fiber just sitting around, available? Well, it’s pretty damn expensive to implement and activate. Also, it requires a lot of expertise. Coincidentally, Google isn’t hurting for cash (MARRY ME, SERGEI!) and probably not for expertise, either, considering they put out a job posting in January seeking people familiar with fiber optics.

Consider also that Google is rumored to be starting its own WiFi system, “Google Secure Access,” in the very early beta-testing stage (allegedly only available in San Francisco). Eligible users can download GSA which encrypts their data via Google’s “Virtual Private Network” server (developed, according to Google, because “secure WiFi was virtually non-existent at most locations”).

The problem with fiber optics has always been the ‘last mile’ problem — getting the high speed to the end user. Combining high speed connections across a city or country with (secure) wireless distribution on either end greatly facilitates this; in other words, WiFi potentially jumps this hurdle (and who knows how this is impacted with the advent of WiMax). The fact that they’re focusing on ultra-secure wifi as opposed to standard wifi security is notable too. Why the extra security? Privacy, yes — but also for financial transactions. Such as, say, buying content.

So: we have the means for major content distribution plus super-secure web access — perfect for financial transactions and telecommunications, with the potential for distribution over a completely private internet. That’s really the point at which we’re talking about the potential for Google to become a utility: With ubiquitous, ultra-secure internet access and video-on-demand, Google provides strong competition to any cable provider (see this NYT article on the critical public value of WiFi mesh). Throw in VoIP, which Google added in August, and they take on Ma Bell. If they could find a way to ship water and electricity, they’d be done.

At a time when the networks are experimenting with downloadable clips on their websites and shifting more and more material to the web, it’s significant to note that Google is aiming leagues above them. We’re not talking about some pixellated two-minute clip of Anderson Cooper being attacked by a Ramada Sign; we’re talking about downloading “Star Wars” on a whim at full-length and perfect quality (it’s true; the geeks shall inherit)(NB Netflix and TiVo are in talks for movies on demand, but that still doesn’t solve their bandwidth problem).

Still doubt that Google wants to rule the world? (Good Lord, how can you; it has a feature called “Google Earth,” for God’s sake). Well, then take it from them, via the Google Blog: “The era of the couch potato is so over. We’re rooting for the desk (and laptop) potato.”

p.s. This is the geekiest thing I’ve ever written.

UPDATE: Google just signed a deal with NASA. Google, RULER OF THE UNIVERSE!!!!!