Google Fiber Service Launches in Kansas City With Eye Toward Cable TV

As Google rolls out its first Google Fiber service in Kansas City, IT analyst Jeff Kagan says the company's splashy foray into cable TV and Internet could potentially be a game-changer across the nation.

After a 16-month wait, Google announced that residents of Kansas City can now start signing up to receive gigabit-speed Internet and cable television service through Google Fiber starting in September.

And rather than deciding on its own which neighborhoods will get the first service, Google is asking residents to gather their neighbors together to "lobby" for the first hook-ups through a sign-up competition that will last through Sept. 9, according to a July 26 blog post on the Google Fiber blog. The neighborhoods with higher numbers of preregistrations will be the first ones to get the services, according to the blog post from Kevin Lo, the general manager of Google Access.

The Kansas City area was chosen more than two years ago by Google as the place to start their Google Fiber efforts ago after the company publicly asked communities across the nation whether they'd want to be the test site for the project. "More than 1,100 cities raised their hands, and those of you in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri won us over with your enthusiasm for better, faster Web connections," wrote Lo.

The sign-up rally is being conducted because "Google Fiber works better when communities are connected together," wrote Lo. "So we€™ve divided Kansas City into small communities we call 'fiberhoods.' We€™ll install only where there€™s enough interest, and we€™ll install sooner in fiberhoods where there€™s more interest."

As part of the program, Google says it will also connect community buildings like schools, libraries and hospitals with free Gigabit Internet if the "fiberhoods" reach their preregistration goals. "The first homes will get service shortly after the rally ends, and all qualifying neighborhoods will receive service before the end of 2013."

Installation of the fiber network in the area began in February, when the laying of fiber cable got underway.

The impact of the first Google Fiber effort will be carefully watched and will likely make waves across the nation if the company is successful with this first deployment, said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecom analyst.

Matched with the rumored launch of Apple's iTV at the end of the year, the move into the cable market by both companies "could transform the business," said Kagan.

Just how could Google Fiber make a difference in the marketplace?

What the company's entry into the market will bring, said Kagan, is true competition through price cuts from traditional cable companies that will be terrified of Google's potential success. Consumers want lower prices to combat what has been a doubling of cable TV prices every 10 years, he said.

"It has been falling on deaf ears with the cables companies until competitors started coming in," said Kagan. "If Verizon and AT&T were the only competitors, I'm afraid that wouldn't be enough to change things. Now that Google is making waves, this is where the cable TV industry is either going to be fixed or stay broken."

Both Google and Apple caused similar large impacts when they moved into the wireless marketplace, where neither had previous experience before taking that leap.

"Now they are one and two in that market," said Kagan. "They could do the same thing with television. And if they do, it's going to throw Comcast and Cox and other cable providers into a whirlwind, a death spiral, as their customers leave. This is what we could see in the next few years."

This potential scenario is probably the only thing that will truly lower prices for consumers, said Kagan. "If and when [Google] gets this right, it's going to send quakes of terror through the cable TV industry."

Pricing for Google Fiber in Kansas City starts at $70 per month for 1 gigabit Internet access alone, up to $120 per month for 1 gigabit Internet access as well as Google Fiber TV. The Google TV package also includes a Nexus 7 tablet that can be used as a remote control. 1TB of cloud storage is included with the Internet-only package, while 2TB of DVR storage is included with the TV/Internet package.

Residents who preregister for the service by Sept. 9 will also be eligible for free Internet access at a lower speed under the sign-up program, according to Google. Preregistrants whose neighborhoods are selected for fiber hook-ups will be able to get a free 5M bps connection free of monthly charges, though they will have to pay a $300 installation free. That charge can be paid at once or in $25 monthly installments.

So what's under the hood in the fiber network itself? The fiber cables themselves are composed of thin glass fibers, each about the width of a human hair. Woven together as part of a big broadband fiber mesh, the cable network will facilitate data at speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have today, according to Google.

Google wants to test this speedy broadband network as a template for supporting gaming applications and other graphically intensive programs. Google's own YouTube video-sharing service would benefit greatly from speedier data facilitation, generating more video views and more ads served.

Editor's note: This article was updated to include the correct amount of cloud storage made available with both the Google TV package and the TV/Internet package.