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Google Asks for Local Help as It Broadens Fiber Rollout

Residents in nine metro areas may soon have a new option for Internet and pay-TV service, thanks to Google.

After a few years of experimenting with building out gigabit-speed Internet infrastructure, Google said Wednesday it is hoping to work more closely and publicly with cities in some smaller U.S. metro areas to bring more of them online.

“The primary lesson that we’ve learned is that consumers want faster Internet,” said Kevin Lo, general manager of Google Fiber, on a call with reporters. “The other thing that we knew before, and we’re acknowledging now, is that building a telecom network from the ground up across the entire city is a really big job.”

So this time around, Google is actively soliciting buy-in from civic leaders, as well as trying to minimize disruption and blowback from digging up streets to lay down fiber by scoping things out in advance and publicizing its plans. “There’s probably few things people hate more than roadwork everywhere,” Lo said.

Thirty-four cities in nine metro areas have been invited over the past few weeks to evaluate their topography and available access to existing infrastructure in the hope they will be blessed with a big Google investment.

That’s not to say Google Fiber is free. In cities where the service is deployed, the company gives away free 5 Mbps Internet access after a $30 construction fee, and charges $70 per month for gigabit speeds and $120 per month with television included as well.

According to Akamai, the average U.S. connection speed is 9.8 Mbps. Gigabit speeds would be at least 100 times quicker.

Fiber launched in Kansas City in 2012; Google says it also has customers online in Provo with gigabit speeds, and service in Austin is planned for later in 2014.

Google is making a case for fiber driving economic growth and job creation, without mentioning its own costs or bottom line.

In a flyer, the company wrote, “Already there are many businesses moving to the ‘Silicon Prairie’ to use a gig to build the apps of the future — for instance, SightDeck moved from California to Kansas City to build next-generation video-conferencing. A French cloud computing company, BIME Analytics, said they chose Kansas City as their North American HQ in part because of Google Fiber.”

An increasing number of cities and towns have been exploring ways to bring faster broadband services to their communities because of dissatisfaction with their current options, which are usually local phone or cable companies. Lobbyists for traditional Internet providers have worked against that effort in some states by encouraging local lawmakers to pass laws to prevent communities from building competing services.

“Competition is good in these local markets,” said Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, one of the included cities and the only one invited to the Google call. “As providers have to compete they lower their rates on traditional Internet service and also improve their service.”

“Everyone will benefit from faster speeds and more competition,” Lo said. He added, “Any changes will benefit any network provider who wants to offer service. There’s nothing special or exclusive here.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday it will look at whether efforts by some states to restrict local governments from building out their own local broadband networks are hurting consumers’ access to high-speed Internet. That could help Google or other companies that try to build competing Internet services with the help of local officials.

Considering 20 states have passed laws to restrict the ability of cities or towns to build out competing broadband networks, the agency is likely to find some issues.

The FCC could try to overturn those laws by saying that they run afoul of federal telecom laws. Last month, a federal appeals court upheld the FCC’s authority to encourage the spread of broadband networks under a section of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. That decision could make it easier for the FCC to take action.

States would likely appeal any decision by the FCC to try to preempt those local muni-broadband restrictions. The FCC has had some success preempting local rules, most recently in a wonky issue involving how long municipalities have to approve or deny construction of new cellphone towers.

Google is also working on something it calls Project Loon, which aims to provide Internet service via high-altitude balloons.

The nine metro areas are below:

Atlanta, GA

  • Avondale Estates
  • Brookhaven
  • College Park
  • Decatur
  • East Point
  • Hapeville
  • Sandy Springs
  • Smyrna

Charlotte, NC

Nashville, TN

Salt Lake City, UT

San Antonio, TX

Phoenix, AZ

  • Scottsdale
  • Tempe

Portland, OR

  • Beaverton
  • Hillsboro
  • Gresham
  • Lake Oswego
  • Tigard

Raleigh-Durham, NC

  • Carrborro
  • Cary
  • Chapel Hill
  • Durham
  • Garner
  • Morrisville
  • Raleigh

San Jose, CA

  • Santa Clara
  • Mountain View
  • Sunnyvale
  • Palo Alto

Kansas City

  • Lenexa
  • Fairway
  • Mission Hills
  • Roeland Park
  • Merriam
  • Leawood
  • Prairie Village
  • Lee’s Summit
  • Raytown
  • Gladstone
  • Grandview
  • Shawnee
  • Olathe
  • Westwood Hills
  • Westwood
  • Mission
  • Mission Woods

Provo, UT

Austin, TX

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