Atlanta and eight other local cities are candidates for Google’s new, ultra-fast fiber optic Internet and television service, the Silicon Valley giant announced Wednesday.
The service, called Fiber, operates at 100 times the speed typically delivered by cable companies today, and at a competitive price. That makes it possible to seamlessly stream HD content or download a feature-length movie in a few seconds. The more devices you’ve got running in your home, the more likely you’d be to notice a big improvement in performance with Google’s 1-gigabit-per-second service.
The company’s timing is either lucky or highly strategic: It comes amid hand-wringing over Comcast’s bid to acquire Time Warner Cable, further collapsing the already slim number of cable Internet providers. By going public with its plans to evaluate 34 key markets nationwide as sites for Fiber, Google also creates buzz around what some onlookers have hailed as a serious challenge to existing providers like Comcast.
“Google is really out of the gate doing something different that is hard for incumbents,” says Ron Hutchins, Georgia Tech’s chief technology officer.
(Full disclosure: Cox Enterprises, which owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, also operates a cable business.)
Hutchins’ “something different” is a radical upgrade of the fiber optic networks in the markets Google Fiber enters. Where Google believes the market conditions are right, it’s willing (and able) to supplant what has been a gradual, piecemeal evolution away from traditional copper transmission lines with a build-it-today strategy.
Depending on how many cities Google chooses, the cost could well be measured in billions. To make that investment worthwhile, Google is looking for two main things: a reasonably hospitable physical environment and a city government willing to help in a big way with logistical things like detailed maps and expedited permits.
In the few markets where Fiber currently exists –Provo, Utah, and Kansas City, with Austin up next — Internet service costs $70 a month, and Internet plus TV is priced at $120. The up-front “construction fee” and equipment charges can run to several hundred dollars, although Google waives most of that if the customer keeps the service for a year or two.
In addition to Atlanta, local cities under consideration are Avondale Estates, Brookhaven, College Park, Decatur, East Point, Hapeville, Sandy Springs and Smyrna. Across the county, Google is looking at a mix of major cities such as Phoenix and Portland and smaller communities such as Chapel Hill, NC, and Palo Alto, Calif.
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