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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Google Fiber Roll-Out Zips Along in Kansas City

by Peak Positions

Story first reported from USA Today

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It doesn't take long to figure out Google's pitch for Fiber. The potentially disruptive broadband service that Google is making available to residents in certain Kansas City neighborhoods is all about speed —Usain Bolt fast.

The search giant recently opened the Google Fiber Space store that I visited here to explain the promise of Fiber to the public and show it in action. The main virtue is speeds of up to 1 "gigabit per second" (1,000 megabits per second, or Mbps), a whopping 100 times zippier than the typical Internet. The results of a speed test during my visit: download speeds of 800.54 Mbps and upload speeds of 945.29 Mbps.

It's one thing to look at a number. It's another to put it in perspective. Where it might take you more than 2 minutes to download a high-definition movie on what is considered a fast connection today, and a lot longer on a poky connection, Google Fiber promises to do so in seven seconds. Fetching 100 photos might take three seconds on Fiber vs. close to a minute on a setup today. The blurring and buffering delays you might experience before a Street View on a Google Map materializes or a painting in the Google Art Project comes into focus all but disappear. At the Fiber store, there was no visible lag as Google streamed games off the OnLive streaming platform. And Google says Fiber will be ready to handle televisions based on so-called 4K (4,000-plus pixels) supersharp video tech.

While residents of Kansas City, Kan., have first shot at Fiber — ahead of their Missouri neighbors — there are restrictions that could prevent some people who want it from getting it. Either way, it'll be a slow roll-out for the rest of the country. Google isn't specifying when Fiber comes to a town and city near you. But it's a long-term effort.

Those eligible for Fiber can preregister in person at the Fiber store in Kansas City or at and must do so by Sept. 9. The $10 to preregister is applied to your service. But to actually get Fiber, you may have to rally your neighbors. Google will start building out the network in a given community only if enough people in that neighborhood sign up. Google established thresholds based on size and density as well as speed and ease of Fiber construction. As the company explains it, houses that are spread out in the suburbs require more time, fiber and labor, and therefore are more difficult to connect than homes in a dense urban environment. There are 204 Fiberhoods (as Google calls them) so far; 64 have qualified. Fiberhoods with the most preregistrations get first dibs on Google starting construction.

Those who get the green light from Google have three plan options. The first provides free monthly Internet for a period of at least seven years, provided you pay a one-time $300 fee (or $25 a month for 12 months) covering the cost of construction. Under that plan, Google promises speeds only on par with today's Internet — up to 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. There are no data caps, and you can upgrade to superfast Fiber at any time. Google will supply a network box (with up to 4 gigabit ethernet ports, plus Wi-Fi).

If you want to cruise the Internet fast lane, you have to sign up for either a Gigabit Internet plan or Gigabit + TV plan. Under both plans the $300 construction fee is waived. The Gigabit Internet plan costs $70 a month and comes with a network box as well. Plus you get 1 terabyte of cloud storage backup on Google Drive. Optional add-on: a Google Chromebook for $299.

The Gigabit + TV plan delivers 18 local channels, plus more than 100 cable channels, with additional premium channels available for a fee. For now, some key channels are missing, including ESPN, Disney and HBO. You also get a 2 TB box to store up to 500 hours of high-definition television and record up to eight shows at the same time. Google is also throwing in its Nexus 7 tablet, which can double as a remote control and search vehicle for the TV.

At the very least, what Google is promising with Fiber should force broadband rivals to step up their game. Time Warner Cable is confident, says spokesman Justin Venech. "Kansas City has been a highly competitive market for some time now, and we take all competitors seriously."

The bottom line:

$300 construction fee for free plan (for at least seven years). Construction fee is waived for Gigabit Internet and Gigabit TV plans that are $70 and $120 month, respectively.

•Pro. Gigabit service is blazing fast and affordable. Option for free Internet (at slower speed) for seven years.

•Con. Only available in Kansas City for foreseeable future. Even there, folks who want it may not be able to get it. "Free" plan requires one-time $300 construction fee. Google TV lacks certain popular channels for now.

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