So, today is the day Google (finally!) announced Fiber in the Triangle (and Charlotte, Nashville and Atlanta). Awesome, right?
In all the hype, it's hard to know what Google Fiber really requires of our cities and of us. How long will it take to get these 100 times faster speeds? And how inclusive will this roll out really be...when will Southeast Raleigh or Apex or Hillsborough get access? Will they ever?
Maybe you've studied Google's rollouts in other cities and know what to expect, but my knowledge was fairly limited on how fiber comes to be. So I dove into the details this morning (primarily from the Google Fiber blog
, published reports and other of the new ISP's resources) to answer some of the top questions on my mind. Hopefully they help clear some things up for you too.
See updates from my interview today with Google's Director of Fiber Business Operations Michael Slinger in italics.
So, Google announces Fiber. Yay! What's next?
Google announced Fiber for Kansas City, its initial rollout city, on March 30, 2011. It took about a year-and-a-half to start connecting homes. In early 2014, the final connections were being made in central Kansas City, MO and Kansas and many new cities around the community had begun collecting signups.
The rollout happened much faster in Provo, Utah, where an agreement was signed in July 2013 and signups began in January 2014. But Provo already had a fiber network in place that was operated by the city government and sold to Google, requiring a whole lot less infrastructure and city oversight.
Google Fiber announced its expansion to Austin
in April 2013 with a goal to begin signing up residents in mid-2014. After city permitting delays, that eventually happened in December 2014, with signups and rollout ongoing in the months and years to come.
Every city is different, and everything from topography (soil makeup and terrain) to city processes can impact how Google proceeds (Here's the city checklist our towns had to cover last year). Seems like it's safe to expect Fiber to come some time in 2016.
Update: Slinger wouldn't reveal a date, but said a key learning from the previous cities was to investigate city infrastructure and maps in advance of partnering. That was the mission of 2014 after the initial 34 cities were announced. Presumably, this means a rollout could happen faster than in other cities.
And who gets it?
Considering that events are being held in Raleigh and Durham tomorrow and Thursday nights and are geared toward residents and enthusiasts in those cities, it might start in the most populous areas of the big cities. That's been the case in Kansas City and Austin. Update: Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Garner, Morrisville and Cary will get Fiber. Slinger can't share which cities or parts of cities will get it first. The design process over the next few months will reveal the best places to start.
But much is dependent on you and me. Google has already studied the maps to find out the most dense parts of our towns, and will start signups in dozens of neighborhoods at a time. Each neighborhood must achieve a certain number of signups before Google agrees to roll out Fiber there. To help drum up signups, Google hosts events in each "Fiberhood" and brings a mobile "Fiber Space" there. It encourages residents who have signed up to tell their neighbors and broadcast it on social media.
A sign up is NOT a commitment to pay $70 or $130 per month for Fiber Internet or Internet and TV (or whatever Google charges here). It's an agreement to pay a minimum of $300 for installation or $25/month for one year to get free basic Internet at existing speeds. You can always upgrade later. The Fiber website says that it doesn't intend to go back to its Fiberhoods after the initial signup period, but it appears that has happened in some cases six or so months after the fact. Update: Slinger would not comment on specific pricing, but said that Triangle prices would be similar to those in other cities.
The point is, don't miss out. When signups are open, sign up.
And what about the smaller towns around the Triangle? Lower income areas?
Kansas City had 6,000 miles of fiberoptic cable within 18 months of deployment and many more cities and towns since then as their city governments approved the process. Cary, Morrisville, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Garner were included in Google's due diligence, so they'd presumably be rolled out at the same time or just after Raleigh and Durham. Update: Slinger said the amount of fiberoptic cable required for this region would stretch to London and back. Also, whether power lines are underground or above ground attached to poles might have an impact on timing and speed of rollout. Therefore, the smaller communities could get Fiber faster than bigger ones.
Low income areas work the same as others—fiberhoods must achieve a minimum number of signups—but Google will provide free gigabit Internet to many community organizations within fiberhoods. The city of Austin chose 100 organizations to receive it for up to 10 years each. Google counts on the surrounding neighborhood to rally to make their community a fiberhood so that those organizations or community centers can get access.
Google also has programs to help people get online and partners with universities in Kansas City, Provo and Austin through a Community Leaders Program, sending out teams of college students to host digital literacy programs. Companies in Kansas City also created a Digital Inclusion Fund to serve this purpose and support other organizations who are training people on computers and the Internet.
Another way low income people (and anyone living in multi-family homes) might get access to the Internet is through apartment complexes. Property managers can get their buildings wired free, offering residents free basic Internet or the opportunity to upgrade to Fiber.
Update: Governor Pat McCrory said his intention is for the entire state to eventually have access to one-gigabit-per-second Internet.
What about small businesses?
Google rolled out a small business option
in parts of Kansas City in November 2014 after fielding requests for a couple years. Some sections of Austin now have access too. Cost is $100/month with additional fees for more IP addresses. That price is guaranteed for one year.
Expect it to happen in areas dense with businesses—presumably downtowns.
Update: Slinger confirmed that a small business option would be available at the same time as residential, but only within Fiberhoods.
How is it installed? What is the process?
Google has this fun little diagram to show the process. But the gist is that it doesn't want to reinvent the wheel. So it studies maps of each city's utilities and existing cable lines and poles to determine where fiber can be run through existing conduits either underground or above ground on poles (One Google blog post
says it touches about 30 poles per mile). It then negotiates leases for that space, as well as backup space in case something happens to a line. Another step in the due diligence process was a commitment from the cities that permitting would happen quickly and easily—Google will submit thousands of permits during the installation.
Those phases have likely already happened if the deal is being announced today. Update: Slinger confirmed much of this due diligence has already happened.
Google has some of its own terminology to explain its system. There are "fiberhoods" or neighborhoods of residents all connected to the fiber network. Poles and lines connect into those homes, and those poles and lines are connected to small "telecom cabinets." The cabinets are connected to Fiber Huts, what Google calls "the brains of the fiber network", which serve about 20,000 homes. A Fiber Ring around a larger area allows Google to quickly connect any of its neighborhoods.
Update: Slinger said several Fiber Rings would be installed in the Triangle over time.
So, what can you do with Fiber that you can't with current Internet speeds? Do I need Fiber?
Google has some cool videos that show why speed matters. I know we'd be excited about it for uploading and editing video here at ExitEvent. And gamers would be down for a speedier gaming experience. The Internet of Things folks in town would probably be okay with Internet that makes it faster and easier to stream the millions of pieces of data required in real-time. As more and more devices around our homes and workplaces are able to be connected to the Internet, faster speeds become more relevant.
Is there any downside?
A scan of message boards shows that Google Fiber responds to customer service issues quickly. And most people are bragging on the speed and uptime in those forums. But TV might leave something to be desired, according to a December story
from The Verge.
Here's an excerpt:
Use it for five minutes, and you'll immediately realize Fiber TV could be so much more. The immediate and pressing problem is a glaring lack of cohesion with Google's other products and services. Some of it's obvious stuff. You can't stream music from your Google Play library; media has to be uploaded directly to the Fiber Network Box in your home before it can be accessed on the TV. That probably takes no time at all with Fiber's connection speeds, but it's insane that such a thing should even be necessary. The same goes for movies and TV. Like other cable companies, Fiber's got its own video-on-demand platform, but don't expect to watch your Google Play Movies purchases on the Fiber box. Inexplicably, you'll need a Chromecast or Nexus Player to do that. Huh? These products are all under the Google umbrella, so why do they seem so far apart? It's a disconnect that needs repairing.
It's clear Google is trying to make its rollout faster and more efficient by taking many months of due diligence before announcing its next round of expansion. Presumably, it will continue to improve its TV offerings too. And...we have a year or more to see if and how upgrades happen in the cities that came before us.
Update: Slinger said he wasn't aware of any issues with the TV service, that it is excellent and he's very proud of it.
If there's one clear win for the Triangle, it's the buzz surrounding the news. The thousands of cities who've petitioned Google for this unique service are now envying us.