Google Fiber High-Speed Internet: A Peek Behind the Curtain

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-10-14

Google Fiber High-Speed Internet: A Peek Behind the Curtain

Google Fiber high-speed Gigabit Internet and cable television services have been spreading into more than a half-dozen communities around the nation since the service debuted in Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., in the fall of 2012, but it's still fairly unknown in most parts of the country.

To help educate prospective users about the still-growing effort, Google has launched a series of blog posts to describe who is getting the service first, when small businesses might be offered service, and what goes on behind the scenes in communities and local governments when Google Fiber wants to deploy in a community.

So far, all the Google Fiber deployments and service proposals, including Kansas City; Provo, Utah; Austin, Texas; Prairie Village, Kan.; Mission Hills, Kan.; and Roeland Park, Kan., are aimed solely at residences, schools and other public- and non-profit customers.

What's happening lately is that some small-business owners have been asking Google when they can get in on the speed and promise of the super-high-speed capabilities of the Gigabit Fiber services. The answer, according to Google, is that it will come sometime in the future, after residential, public service and nonprofit customers are hooked up and receiving their services.

"Our Fiber cities are full of small-business owners–their entrepreneurial spirit is one of the main reasons why we decided to bring Fiber to [Kansas City], Austin and Provo in the first place, and we can't wait to see what many of them can do with ultra-high-speed Internet," wrote Michael Slinger, director of business operations for Google Fiber in an Oct. 9 post on the Google Fiber Blog.

"From the beginning, Google Fiber was meant to help make the Web faster for individuals and families. We'd noticed frustration from users about their home Internet speeds–nobody likes to put their lives on hold as videos buffer, photo albums upload or movies download. We chose to bring a Fiber to homes first, to help make the Web there faster, and we'll have a small-business product in the future," Slinger wrote.

No timeline is yet available for when hook-ups to businesses might start, according to Slinger. "For now, we're extremely focused on bringing Fiber to all of the residents who are already signed up and waiting for service. We will have more information about our small-business product in the future."

Home-based businesses can, however, take advantage of Google Fiber, he wrote, because they are located inside residential dwellings where the services are being offered so far. "If you live in and work from your home (e.g., accountant, graphic designer, online tutor, talent agent for clowns), you can use Google Fiber. Just make sure you read through and comply with our terms of service."

To bring Google Fiber into a community, Google's teams have to install thousands of miles of new fiber-optic lines and integrate them throughout the infrastructure of the communities they will serve, wrote John Toccalino, Google Fiber's manager of outside plant engineering, in an Oct. 8 post on the Google Fiber Blog. The fiber-optic lines allow the super-fast connections and data transmission speeds offered by the service and are light-years ahead of the copper wires used in existing landline telephone services, he wrote.

"Fiber-optic cables are made of glass, and they use lasers to transmit information–close to the speed of light!" wrote Toccalino. "It's amazing technology, but unfortunately very few homes have direct access to fiber networks today. That's where my team comes in. Every day, we’re working to plan and build brand-new Google Fiber networks in Kansas City and Austin.”

To do that, the teams must build base maps using municipal data to determine where the lines can be installed, while avoiding gas lines, sewer lines and other hazards; then they design the needed networks for each location from scratch, he wrote.

Google Fiber High-Speed Internet: A Peek Behind the Curtain

"Every mile of this network has to be planned and diagramed, which takes a huge amount of time (imagine planning a network that touches [some] 30 utility poles per mile, for thousands of miles). We also plan and build backup fiber routes; we want to be ready just in case there's a break in service along any section of our network (it just so happens that squirrels love to chew through fiber lines)," Toccalino wrote.

After that is completed, the installation of the network begins, and that's the part that residents can see as crews install the lines in their towns and neighborhoods. "In other words, this is a huge undertaking, and we know you might get a bit impatient with us from time to time," wrote Toccalino. "We know you want your Google Fiber–please know that we've got our teams hard at work to get you connected just as soon as we can."

Of course, before any of those steps can happen, Google Fiber team members must work with local government officials in the communities they want to serve to get permission, create licensing agreements and sign contracts for the work, according to Derek Slater, Google Fiber's government relations manager.  

The conversations typically include discussions on how the two sides can work together quickly and efficiently on such an unusually large project, Slater wrote in an Oct. 7 post on the Google Fiber Blog. "Some people have suggested that these conversations between Google Fiber and city leaders involve requests for special incentives, exclusive privileges or tax breaks–and that's simply not true."

Instead, most of the discussions focus on gaining access to existing infrastructure, existing maps of other infrastructure and obtaining expedited construction permits to get the project going, wrote Slater. "Our work with the city doesn't end here. We stay in touch with city leaders and work closely with them throughout the entire construction and installation process to make it as quick and painless for residents as possible."

In September, plans for eventual Google Fiber high-speed Internet and cable television service in Overland Park, Kan., were halted by the city's leaders as they pondered the potential legal issues surrounding who would be responsible if problems developed with the services.

The one-month delay, until Oct. 14, was announced in a Sept. 17 story by The Kansas City Star, which reported that the City Council delayed its decision because of a liability concern in the proposed legal agreement with Google. This apparently marks the first time that Google has run into delays in communities where it has proposed hookups to its ultra-high-speed Internet and cable television services.

In Austin, Google says it plans to start connecting homes by mid-2014. Customers there will have a similar choice of products as those being offered in Kansas City, including Gigabit Internet or Gigabit Internet plus Google Fiber TV service with nearly 200 HDTV channels.

Early results from the Kansas City rollout have been promising for Google Fiber based on Internet speed ratings reported by Netflix each month. Based on the small but growing deployment Google Fiber has in Kansas City, the service is ranked No. 1 for Internet speeds across the nation, compared with competitors, according to the Netflix numbers. Google Fiber is listed at 3.45M bps average speed, compared with 2.39M bps for its nearest rival, Cablevision Optimum.

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