It’s official, tech-giant Google is bringing its high speed internet service to Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, Atlanta and Charlotte. Now, we know it’s coming, but when? And what does it mean for Charlotte and its residents. And what’s in it for Google?
Let’s start with when.
For Google Fiber to work, the company needs to build a whole new telecom network based on fiber optic cables. Basically, it's a rope of hair-thin glass tubes bundled together that use lasers to transmit data.
It'll be a while for that to happen, says Jill Szuchmacher, director of expansion for Google Fiber. She says the only sign of Google Fiber you’ll see for some time are
"Trucks, you can see surveyors, you’ll see folks digging in the right-of-way."
Google will build individual fibers out to customers, plus the new hubs and backbone that connect it all to the Internet.
City officials say construction on all this is scheduled to begin in the first half of this year. From there, it will be two years before service is switched on. Google's Szuchmacher gave no timeline.
"Just be patient," she says.
And Szuchmacher gave no details as to which neighborhoods will get the service first, and there's no work on the rest of Mecklenburg County. For now, she says Google is only focused on building the network inside Charlotte's city limits.
"Google Fiber will put Charlotte on par with some of the fastest cities in the world, Tokyo, Seoul and Zurich."
As in one gigabit uploaded and downloaded per second. That’s around 100 times faster than what most people get from their Internet provider. That means no buffering while you stream high definition movies, video chats with better quality video and no dropouts, and, well...who knows what else. The important thing, says Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter, is the service stakes Charlotte’s place in the Internet-based world.
"This is validation that Charlotte intends to be and will be positioned to be a major player in the digital economy of the 21st century," he says.
And that’s what’s in this for Charlotte as a whole. Google’s network could be a catalyst – and spur new high tech jobs in Charlotte. It did in Kansas City, the first to get Google Fiber, says Rich Greenfield, media analyst with brokerage firm BTIG.
"The influx of technology workers wanting to take advantage and wanting to be one of the first people to have gigabit fiber is real and meaningful."
Greenfield adds that houses in Kansas City hooked up to Google Fiber sell at a higher price than those without it.
Now what’s in it for you, the consumer?
Google has yet to announce what the rates will be for its Internet service in Charlotte. In the three other cities that have Google Fiber, users pay monthly subscriptions of $70 for Internet-only and $120-$130 for Internet and a scaled-down version of cable TV. So, Google Fiber offers competition.
"We welcome competition, it's great for the marketplace, it's great for innovation," says AT&T spokesman Josh Gelinas. AT&T has its own fiber optic plan called U-Verse. The company plans to roll out its high- speed version of the service in Charlotte sometime this year – but Gelinas says it can already be found,
"In Raleigh and Durham and that area, it's $90 a month for 100 megabits per second. And then customers can upgrade to the 1 gigabit per second for an additional $30."
That’s $120 per month. As for Time Warner Cable, Charlotte’s dominant Internet provider, the company already has a fiber-optic network available in Charlotte, only for businesses. For residential customers, it offers a range of plans.
"We offer something called 'Everyday Low-price Internet.' It’s just $14.99 per month," says Time Warner spokesman Rich Ruggiero.
"And that’s perfect for someone who does light web browsing, reads a little bit of email," he says.
It goes up from there – but the maximum Time Warner can offer is less than a third of Google’s Internet speed, but it offers more cable channels.
So in the end, whether Google Fiber is right for you depends on whether you’re a heavy user of the Internet or just a casual surfer. And it matters on how much you pay each month for access.
Now to our final question. What’s in this for Google? The company will foot the entire bill to build their new network in Charlotte. And while they won’t say how much that will cost – it won’t be cheap.
Google will make some money from those monthly subscriptions.
But the real money comes from what Google is really good at – collecting data, says media analyst Rich Greenfield.
"This is all about understanding consumers. Learning about them, learning what they like," he says.
And then using your interests to target you with very specific advertising. Google already does that whenever you search on your smart phone, laptop or tablet.
"The one place where Google doesn’t really know much about the consumer is on the television," Greenfield notes.
Having a direct pipeline into homes, one that offers a cable TV-like package, can allow Google to move in on the TV advertising market – which Geenfield says is worth $65 billion a year.