On February 19th, Google announced that Raleigh, Charlotte and seven other cities are on the short list for next cities that might get Google Fiber. Interestingly enough, this announcement is on the heels of an acquisition announcement of Time Warner Cable by Comcast, for $45.2 billion. Google Fiber could be the next big broadband player locally here in N.C. as early as two years from now. The announcement though, is not as simple as one would hope.
What To Know:
None of the nine cities on the short list have actually been chosen yet. Google Fiber, along with each potential community, will have a lot of hard work to bring the service to the area. In the same vein, the Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger has NOT been approved by the FCC.
The Triangle may have a leg up on the competition, as Durham was on the original announcement list of potential partners. North Carolina has already been investigating solutions for high speed internet for some time now, so hopefully a significant portion of the investigatory legwork has already been done. Google also recently cemented a relationship with American Underground, making it one of seven startup tech hubs in the nation.
Internet Speeds by Google Fiber are listed as up to 1000 Mbps, essentially 100x faster than the average current internet speed in the U.S. If Raleigh and Charlotte do become 'fiber hoods', as Google calls them, there are three plans to choose from. The first plan includes HD TV, gigabit speed internet and a free Nexus 7 for $120. Users are, however, wrapped into a two-year contract. The other two plans are contract-less: $70 for high speed internet only, or free basic internet for seven years. In comparison, the fastest speed available in the Triangle is Time Warner Cable's 100 Mbps for $105 a month. The 'free' internet Google Fiber would provide costs about $35 through Time Warner Cable today.
The Hidden Cost:
Google Fiber analyzes potential partners by providing them with a checklist of tasks before it can become a 'fiberhood'. These tasks range from checking topographic information to help Google figure out where it can lay fiber. Google is smartly pitting the cities against each other in a competition to see who wants Google Fiber most. That service in any city is something a Mayor can use to please his or her constituents.
A leaked copy of the agreement between the city of Kansas City and Google shed some light on what goes on behind the scenes in such a project. Normally, companies have to apply for permits and rights of access to go through such a complicated task as installing new fiber optic cable in cities. This is part of the reason Google Fiber is not coming to older cities like New York and Chicago anytime soon. Construction would be a nightmare, let alone the regulations and permits required.
Normally, providers of services such as cable and broadband pay 3-5% of revenues from subscriptions to local cities to offset taxpayer subsidies. Google however, is not required to do so in Kansas City. The city also gave Google access to free office space, utilities and expedited the approval process for the project. Incentives such as these are indirect requirements to help get Google Fiber in proposed communities. Taxpayers end up shouldering some of the cost that goes into such a project and Google, a private company, does not.
What To Expect:
Google encourages taxpayers to reach out to town councils and related organizations to show their support. Bringing Google Fiber and faster internet to the community will no doubt change the entire broadband ecosystem locally. Consumers seem to get a better deal anywhere Google Fiber has rolled out.
On Thursday, Time Warner Cable announced that it is rolling out free upgrades to the entire broadband network it services in Austin, TX, where Fiber will be offered this year. All customers will receive speed increases for free, and Time Warner also plans to phase in 1,000 new wireless hotspots over the next year. Its ultimate plan will increase speeds from 50 Mbps to 300 Mbps in comparison to Google Fiber's 1000 Mbps. As a current Time Warner Cable customer, I am curious whether the same proposed enhancements will also be offered here in the coming months.
Immediately after the announcement, media on- and offline became ablaze with excitement. Threads on Reddit popped up almost immediately regarding ways to get involved to attract Google Fiber. Mayors and Town Councils of Raleigh, Garner, and Cary released announcements stating their intention to do everything possible to make it easy for Google Fiber to come to our neighborhoods.
A new player in the broadband market locally will be a fresh change of pace, especially if the Time Warner Cable and Comcast deal goes through. Having access to high speed internet can be make-or-break for many businesses and institutions. Time Warner Cable and Comcast both scored lowest on the American Customer Satisfaction Index's annual report on internet providers in 2013. Google Fiber, as of 2013, was not included in the survey.
But if price alone is a deciding factor, my money would be on Google Fiber's rating being extremely high.