Google satellite farm may mean plans for TV service


News that Google applied to the FCC in December for a satellite receiving station license in Iowa is now fueling speculation that it may be doing that to bundle Internet and TV services in Kansas City. Google chose Kansas City, KS last spring as one of the cities where it hopes to make next-generation Internet connections available and affordable to homes.

Google chose the much smaller Kansas City, KS instead its Missouri counterpart across the river to test out the upcoming super-fast Internet service. After a year-long search, Google chose KCK instead of 1,100 cities around the country. Why? Partly because the city could guarantee the cooperation of the local electric provider (a key player in sharing utility poles and buried conduit). It is publicly owned with significant unused fiber-optic capacity.

Without employing many locals, Google plans to build across KCK a fiber-optic network that it says will transmit data up to 100 times faster than conventional broadband, starting in 2012.

If Google plans to draw customers to its ultrafast Internet service, it would help to bundle it with a cable-style TV package. Google is being characteristically mum on the subject. A spokeswoman told the Kansas City Star: “We’re still exploring what product offerings will be available when we launch Google Fiber” — the name given for its Internet service project.

The FCC application does not give specifics about how Google might use the facility. And the fact that Google wants to camp the operation in Council Bluffs, IA, near Omaha, muddies the guessing about the company’s intent.

Instead, Google said in its application only that the company wanted those satellite receiving stations to receive C-band and Ku-band signals “to provide analog and digital audio, data and video services.” That could, of course, constitute the sort of antenna farm that cable television companies use to capture signals before routing them to customers.

The application reportedly initially was denied on technical grounds. The FCC signaled a revised application might go forward. Google has been coaxing people toward watching more television programming over the Internet before. It owns YouTube, and last year, in its now-infamous $100 investment, signed up Hollywood talent to produce more professional content “channels” for the video-streaming website.

This development, if it turns out to be the construction of an antenna farm for collecting network programming, might mark a more traditional way to pipe entertainment to living rooms.

Why Council Bluffs? Perhaps because the Omaha area sits on the backbone of the fiber optic cables that stretch the Internet across the U.S. The location could help if Google launched its super-fast Internet service in other markets, or if it incorporated a paid-programming package with its Google TV, noted The Star.

Google TV was introduced in 2010 as a way to meld conventional television programming with Web surfing. It has yet to gain much popularity. The Council Bluffs station might act as a cable head end. Google could then transfer the signals over iPTV to homes. Running a connection to Kansas City would be relatively simple. The western Iowa hub might also be used to feed programming to tablets or smartphones using Google’s Android software, or to televisions connected to the Internet through Google TV.