If Google Fiber were to install its network in every corner of its seven Triangle cities—Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Morrisville, Cary and Garner—the total square mileage would be larger than that of several individual countries.
These Triangle cities: 343.5 square miles
The countries of Antigua, Barbuda and Barbados: 337 miles.
That's a lot of fiber.
So what should we expect from Fiber, aside from faster connection speeds? Judging from the experiences of Google Fiber's first four cities, you can expect other telecom companies, such as Time Warner Cable and AT&T, to drop their prices and increase service.
Yet, just because installation went swimmingly in Kansas City does not mean it will in all of the Triangle's cities. The ease with which Google can install its fiber network depends on each city's infrastructure, size, permitting process and staffing. Austin, Texas, for example, had to hire more people to handle all of the permits necessary to build the network.
We asked the first four cities chosen by Google to briefly discuss their experiences:
The first customers signed up for Google Fiber in Austin, Texas, in December 2014, after the company announced its expansion into the city in April 2013. Rondella Hawkins, the city's telecommunications and regulatory affairs officer, said Google is building out the network and signing up customers in one "Fiberhood," following permitting delays.
Google is not offering services yet, Hawkins says, but a customer service line is in place and Google has "escalation" workers to handle issues between customers and contractors. Hawkins said Austin had to request additional funding from its City Council last September to hire additional staff to manage the project.
"The scale of the project has had a significant impact on staffing resources for permitting and processing," Hawkins said. "The magnitude of permits coming through our right of way and permitting departments made it necessary to hire additional staff. You don't want to delay projects because of permitting, you want the provider in and out as quickly as possible to minimize disruption to neighborhoods."
Hawkins says the same day Google announced it was coming to Austin, AT&T announced it would upgrade its services and provide gigabit service in the city as well. Time Warner Cable and local company Grande Communications have expanded their services also.
"The cost has gone down, people are getting a faster speed, more bandwidth for the cost and we saw an immediate response from competitors," Hawkins says.
But she doesn't yet know when Google's fiber network will be complete.
Provo is Google Fiber's most recent city. In August 2013, Google Fiber agreed to purchase and upgrade the city's existing iProvo fiber network. The sale closed in July 2014, and under the agreement, Provo is obligated to pay off the balance on the bonds that were used to pay for the original fiber installation.
Under the contract, residences and small businesses in Provo near the iProvo network can connect to the Google Fiber network for a onetime $30 activation fee. Sign-ups started in January, and residents can choose from three levels of service: a free Internet service for at least seven years, a faster (1GB/second) Internet connection for around $70 a month, or the faster connection plus the HDTV package for $120 a month. Additionally, Google will provide 25 locations selected by the city with the free 1GB/second service.
Google Fiber has a central customer service center in Provo and a website devoted to the project at www.Provo.org.
In March 2011, Google chose Kansas City from more than 1,100 applicants as its first place to install fiber. By November 2012, the first customer in Kansas City was connected to the fiber network.
Edwin Birch, a city spokesperson, said Google laid the fiber optic cable at no cost to the city. While the city's metropolitan area is fully connected, the sign-up process is ongoing. Two other municipalities in Wyandotte County aren't hooked up yet.
Birch said Google Fiber's arrival in Kansas City, where most people were connected to Time Warner Cable and AT&T, has created competitive pricing. He said he has received no complaints about Google, and that customer service team members are "very responsive."
"They have been a great partner for us," Birch said of Google. "It was all about some of our urban communities having access to the Internet. It being accessible was a driver for leaders in community organizations, schools and for people in low-income areas. Google was helpful in working to make sure that was possible."
Just across the state line, Google announced Kansas City, Missouri, would be the next city to get Google fiber in April 2011. Construction is nearing completion and the city connecting community centers to fiber first, according to assistant City Manager Rick Usher.
Usher said the city struggled early on with communications between customers and the contractors charged with laying the 7,000 miles of fiber optic cable across the city. He said Public Works inspectors sometimes found it difficult to monitor where all the work was happening each day, but most of the problems were resolved.
Google Fiber has a customer service phone line in Kansas City to field complaints or problems, and Usher said the city has been successful in partnering with Google's quality control engineering team. Now, the fiber network passes 210,000 households and has spurred start-up companies and a growing "digital inclusion coalition." "It has really been an economic engine for the city," Usher said.
He added that Timer Warner Cable just announced it would be tripling its basic Internet speed, while AT&T is building a gigabit network of its own in one of the city's larger suburbs. Both companies are dropping their prices in the area. City staff members have seen increased permit activity from both companies, meaning they are working to stay competitive.
"Prepare for (the Triangle's) success," Usher says. "Start being able to tell the stories of what you are working on in your cities and the opportunities that are there, and get out and support the different groups that will pop up all over trying to address these opportunities."