The Triangle is one of nine metropolitan areas where Google is considering expanding its high-speed Internet and TV service, known as Google Fiber. And Garner is among the seven municipalities in the area with which the Internet giant hopes to collaborate.
Over the next several months the company expects to do topography and infrastructure studies and hold planning conversations with local officials to determine whether the Triangle is suited for its network. Google’s fiber optic network offers residential customers 1-gigabit-per-second Internet service, which is nearly 100 times faster than most broadband connections in the United States.
“By the end of the year we hope to provide an update on which cities we will be bringing Google Fiber to,” said Kevin Lo, general manager for Google Fiber.
Wednesday’s announcement potentially represents a major expansion of Google Fiber, and it is the best indication yet of the search giant’s willingness to compete nationally with large Internet and cable providers such as Time Warner Cable and Comcast, which announced plans to merge last week, and AT&T and Verizon.
Garner officials welcomed the announcement, with Mayor Ronnie Williams saying the proposed superfast network “could make a significant contribution to the town’s quality of life.”
“We are very excited about the possibility of Google Fiber coming to Garner,” Town Manager Hardin Watkins said. “This service is the kind of thing that could attract more high-tech workers and creative types to our community. Our staff will do whatever we can to help Google obtain the information it needs to move forward with its decision making.”
In 2011, Google chose Kansas City as the initial market for its Google Fiber service. It has since announced plans to build a similar network in Austin, Texas. Google Fiber also acquired a network in Provo, Utah, where it has begun offering ultra-high-speed Internet service.
The other metro areas being considered for this latest expansion are Charlotte, Atlanta, Nashville, San Antonio, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Portland, Ore. Google Fiber is targeting 34 municipalities within those nine metro areas, including seven in the Triangle – Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Garner, Morrisville and Raleigh.
“If we can get through the planning process, we’d like to build everywhere – in all 34 of these cities,” Lo said.
Each city is being asked to work through a checklist of items that are designed to expedite the construction of a fiber optic network. Google Fiber says it needs to limit red tape that can slow the costly work of building a network street by street.
“When we get going, I think we want to be able to move on a fast and predictable schedule and so we like to work with a city upfront for handling what might be up to a 100 times more permits than they see today,” Lo said. “Really, we’re doing this so they don’t become annoyed with us later.”
In addition to gauging local officials willingness to cooperate, the company will evaluate cities based on their existing infrastructure and housing density. That includes determining how much of a fiber network can be strung along existing utility poles – instead of having to be buried underground.
A big threat
It’s unclear how Google Fiber’s entrance into the Triangle market might alter the competitive landscape for Internet and TV service. Google Fiber is only targeting residential customers, though officials say it may eventually offer a product for small businesses.
After Google announced its intention to enter the Austin market, AT&T and another Internet service provider there said they would sell consumers gigabit connections. Kansas City did not see a similar response from cable or phone companies.
In the Triangle, Time Warner Cable now offers download speeds of 50-megabits-per-second and upload speeds of 5-megabits-per-second while AT&T offers download speeds of 45-megabits-per-second and uploads speeds of 6-megabits-per-second.
Brian Bennett, a cable industry analyst and owner of Bennett Strategic Insights, said Google may see an advantage in loudly announcing its intentions.
“By putting this information out there and people getting a hold of it, it makes competitors in the markets they mention worry,” he said. “To say ‘oh we might potentially come there,’ that’s a big threat from an Internet perspective because they’re offering speeds that aren’t even comparable.”
Bennett said most cable and phone companies are already working on ways to improve the broadband speeds over their existing coaxial cable and copper wire networks.
“They’re trying to find more ways to get more speed out of the existing technology instead of having to reinvest in an entire market to bring fiber to the home,” he said.
Google Fiber officials say the company’s service is a response to consumer demand for faster Internet connections. They also argue that as such networks become ubiquitous they will spur technological innovations. But as one of the largest providers of Internet services, Google, which owns YouTube, also has a lot to gain from expediting the roll out of ultra-fast networks.
“Google itself wants to push these gigabit data speeds because their core business is built on customer data, and the fact that they can get that data a lot quicker and at the same time build up their reputation as being the fastest is great,” Bennett said.
Some analysts viewed Google Fiber’s announcement Wednesday as being more about public relations than anything else.
“Google has a great PR machine about a 1-gigabit fiber to the home system,” said Steve Effros, a cable industry analyst in Virginia. The average home doesn’t need that much bandwith, Effros said. “So the purpose of a 1-gigabit system right now is not exactly clear.”
Cherry picking customers
Effros said Google Fiber’s business model is basically to cherry pick the most attractive communities, something that was illegal for the cable companies to do when they got their franchises.
In Kansas City, Google Fiber has centered on neighborhoods where it can register the greatest demand and making consumers now-or-never offers on hook-ups. That’s intended to avoid costly piecemeal installations across a market. Google Fiber has not disclosed how many customers it has, or when it expects to turn a profit in Kansas City.
“If Comcast got the same deal that Google got there would be outrage in terms of the local community agreeing to have, in essence, redlining – ‘I’m going to go into the wealthiest areas first, I’m going to go into the areas that commit to buying my service before I offer it, and I’m going to undercut the prices of everyone else because I don’t have the same obligations that my competitors have,” Effros said.
Most of the 34 new cities Google Fiber is targeting were among the more than 1,100 communities that applied for the service back in 2010. Both Durham and Raleigh were among those that applied, with Raleigh City Councilman Bonner Gaylord going so far as to offer to name his unborn children after Google’s two founders if the city was chosen.
Kansas City Star staff writer Scott Canon and Garner-Cleveland Record staff writer Kyle Jahner contributed.
Bracken: 919-829-4548; Twitter: @brackendavid