News Column

Google Fiber Likely a Game-changer

Aug. 17, 2012

Shea Conner, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.


Next month, Fiber fever will sweep over Kansas City.

Our neighbors to the south were selected as the first community in the world to be given access to Google Fiber, an incredible broadband Internet network using fiber-optic communication. Home installations are expected to start in September.

Google Fiber will provide Internet connectivity at about 1 gigabit (or 1,024 megabits) per second, which means it will run more than 200 times faster than the Internet in most American homes. Despite the advertising claims of several Internet service providers, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports that the average download speed in the U.S. is only about 4 megabits per second.

Fiber customers will never have to deal with buffering videos or online gaming that slows down the entire house again. And they will experience HD videoconferencing without delay and they'll be able to download an HD movie file in less than two minutes (that process usually takes more than two hours for the average American downloader).

One would expect the cost of an Internet service of this caliber to shoot through the roof, but Fiber will be shockingly cheap. Google is offering three pricing options for Fiber. The priciest version checks in at $120 per month, but it includes HD television service with 160 channels. The $120 option also includes 1 terabyte of storage on Google's Drive service, a 2 terabyte DVR recorder that can record up to eight live TV shows simultaneously and a Nexus 7 tablet (a $199 value) that can act as a remote control for the system. The television service will also stream live program content on iPad and Android tablet computers.

For those who don't want to fork over $120 a month for Google Fiber, there's a $70 per month option that doesn't include the TV service, the DVR recorder or the Nexus 7 tablet.

The last pricing option offers a scaled-back version of Fiber for free. FREE! Well, almost free. After paying a one-time construction fee of $300, customers can get a version of Fiber that downloads at 5 megabits per second -- which is still a megabit faster than the national average -- for free. Google promises that the lesser version of Fiber will be free for at least seven years.

Those rates almost seem too good to be true when compared to the competition. For $100 a month, Comcast's premium Internet connection advertises downloads of up to 50 megabits per second, and that doesn't include any type of TV service whatsoever. And unlike several providers like Suddenlink, AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, Google refuses to push data limits on Fiber customers, despite its television service and integration with streaming services like Netflix.

Not to mention, Google is throwing in tons of great freebies that no provider has come close to matching. The Google Nexus 7 is one of the hottest tablets on the market right now, and the DVR box that comes with Google Fiber TV can store an enormous 500 hours of HD video.

"That's a lot of episodes of '30 Rock' you can have at your beck and call," says Christina DesMarais, technology columnist for PC World and Forbes.

In the coming years, Ms. DesMarais says, cable and Internet providers will be forced to get faster, cheaper and more technologically inclined if they want to compete.

"Competition is good for consumers," she says, "and it means the cable companies are going to have to switch things up or die."

Cable providers are far from circling the drain, however, because they still offer more popular networks than Fiber. Google has yet to clinch contracts with several major players, such as News Corp's Fox cable channels; Time Warner networks like CNN, TNT and TBS, as well as Walt Disney's cable channels like ESPN and the Disney children networks.

Additionally, there's no guarantee that Google Fiber will be a success.

Fiber users with less-than-stellar equipment or those trying to communicate with others who aren't blessed with a great Internet connection may not be greatly impressed with Fiber. As top-notch technology blog GigaOm recently pointed out, "the Internet is reciprocal so it's no fun if you have the speeds to send a holographic image of yourself but no one on the other end can receive it."

For that reason, "underwhelming" might be the best word to describe the experience in Chattanooga, Tenn., where for the past two years the public utility has offered customers a 1 gigabit fiber-to-the-home connection for about $300 a month.

While no one can fault Google for its ambition, and its pricing options certainly look impressive, the company must quickly establish a great customer service reputation to compete with the cable and Internet heavyweights.

"It certainly looks to be a compelling deal at face value, but when it comes to this level of effort, it's all about the details, levels of service and overall experience that matter," says Michael Gartenberg, director of Gartner Research, the world's leading information technology research and advisory company.

Time Warner spokesman Justin Venech says the second largest U.S. cable operator -- and by far the largest in Kansas City -- boasts a "robust and adaptable network" and welcomes the competition in Kansas City.

Google is in the midst of a six-week "rally" for consumers to vote on where the first fiber communities, or "fiberhoods," should be installed in the Kansas City area. Consumers must pay $10 to register their household online for service. About 50 "neighbors" will need to register in order for their area to be eligible for installation services, according to Google executives.

Whether or not consumers will embrace the new offerings remains to be seen, but Google's officials are confident Kansas City will showcase the type of success the company seeks for a larger rollout.

"Google is a very different company," said Kevin Lo, general manager of Google Access, in a press statement last month. "And this is not a short-term project."

Source: (c)2012 the St. Joseph News-Press (St. Joseph, Mo.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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