On Tuesday, January 27th, Google announced that they would be bringing their fiber-based internet service to four new US cities, with Charlotte being one of them. The Queen City beat out San Antonio, San Jose, and Phoenix, among others for the gigabit internet service which has been in only three other cities (Kansas City, Austin and Provo, UT) since 2010.
What is Google Fiber, what will it bring to the community, and what is behind all the buzz? We talked to Alan Fitzpatrick of CharlotteHeartsGigabit.com about what Fiber could potentially mean for the city.
QC Independent: Let’s start with what everyone wants to know first: Where and when will service be available?
Alan Fitzpatrick: Google Fiber reports that it’s too soon to share an exact date or plans. When they implemented new fiber networks in Kansas City and Austin it took 20 months from the time of announcement until the first customer was activated. We believe that Google Fiber’s first step will be building the fiber ring and all of the Fiber Huts. This step may take 9-12 months. At that point individual neighborhood builds could be considered. We are excited that Charlotte was selected for a Google Fiber build, but we will need to be patient over the next couple of years.
QCI: What is the process for determining where it will be available, and in what order?
AF: The process for neighborhood consideration is 1) Check your address to see if Fiber is available in your area. Google Fiber will make sure you’re among the first to know when they are coming to your fiberhood. 2) Google will survey fiberhoods to determine the level of interest. You can only get Fiber if enough people in your fiberhood sign up. It is important to get as many neighbors as possible to sign up during the initial canvassing as they don’t plans to return to fiberhoods once their sign-up periods have ended.
To get Google Fiber installed, every neighborhood has to reach a pre-determined goal. Typically, Google requires that somewhere between 5% and 25% of all households put down the $10 pre-registration fee to signal their interest in the service. All of the neighborhoods that reach their goals will get Google Fiber installed in their area. The order in which Google will install its fiber-optic lines will be determined by percentage of households that signed up for the service in each neighborhood.
QCI: What effect does Google Fiber have on TWC, Comcast and specifically AT&T’s already-announced fiber network?
AF: The mere threat of Google Fiber in a city has resulted in the incumbent ISPs improving their service levels and reducing their prices. In Charlotte AT&T has already announced rolling out their GigaPower product, and Time Warner Cable has announced that their MAXX product will be deployed here. In Kansas City Time Warner Cable tripled their Internet speeds with no increase in cost.
AT&T has announced that GigaPower will be deployed in Charlotte. While they have not announced a date, we heard from individuals in Charlotte that AT&T technicians are actively upgrading the network in their neighborhoods. GigaPower offers Internet broadband speeds up to 1 gigabit per second, AT&T’s fastest home Internet speed in the U.S. Specific locations of availability and pricing for the Charlotte market will be released at a later date. AT&T recently announced that they will be hiring 100 additional fiber technicians due to increased demand in North Carolina.
Time Warner Cable has also announced that Charlotte has been selected for their higher speed Internet service. While it isn’t Gigabit speed, it is significantly faster that their existing service levels. The Internet transformation includes speed increases on TWC residential Internet plans at no additional cost, with customers experiencing increases up to six times faster, depending on their current level of speed. For example, customers who subscribe to Standard Service, formerly up to 15 Mbps, will now receive up to 50 Mbps, customers who subscribe to Extreme, formerly up to 30 Mbps, will now receive up to 200 Mbps, and customers who subscribe to the Ultimate plan, formerly up to 100 Mbps, will receive up to 300 Mbps, at no extra charge.
QCI: What are potentially some of the biggest positives from this, besides increased internet speeds Obviously increased entrepreneurship, but what else?
AF: We believe the five biggest positives for Charlotte are:
- Economic development. The killer app for local fiber networks is economic development. Specific areas where it could help our region include: Healthcare, Clean Energy, Education and Workforce Development, Advanced Manufacturing, Emergency Preparedness and Public Safety, and Transportation.
- Attracting talent. Creatives, software developers, web designers, advanced manufacturers, videographers… all examples of who could be attracted to live in our region with a fiber infrastructure. Not only would the individuals themselves see value in relocating here, but companies who are recruiting employees from out-of-area will be able to list it as a quality of life benefit for being here.
- Entrepreneurship has flourished where fiber networks have been installed. Real-time online gaming, live telepresence, editing videos and pictures in the cloud, distributed super-computing, marketplace for video editing, are all potential applications.
- Increase in competition improves ISP service levels and reduces prices. Areas without much competition are left behind. One of the benefits we’ve already seen from Google Fiber considering Charlotte is AT&T and TWC both committing to improve their offerings in the region.
- Improved community collaboration. Numerous people in Kansas City told us that the Google Fiber project brought together the two-state metro area more than anything seen to date. Groups started to work with each other to improve the good for the community. HOAs started pitching in to pay the fees for residents to access the fiber. Libraries, schools and faith based groups were heavily engaged as well.
QCI: Along those same lines, how does having Google Fiber make Charlotte more of a destination, or business-friendly destination?
The ISPs are going to give us tools, but it will be up to us in the community on how we will leverage them. The community needs to be co-creators of a ‘game plan’ and not just wait for the ISPs to deliver the infrastructure. The City of Charlotte will be conducting a regular series of meetings with community groups to determine how we can leverage the infrastructure to benefit the citizens.
Entrepreneurs need to start considering a world with Gigabit connections to the home, and all the new web applications that may become possible. Universities need to consider how Gigabit to a student’s home will impact the ‘flipped classroom’, real-time massive open online courses, and R&D activity. Businesses need to start considering what residential Gigabit service will mean for their remote workers. A Gigabit VPN between a home user and a business will become a reality.
We believe that a combination of these things will attract more talent to Charlotte, and position us as the ‘Crown Jewel’ of Gigabit cities.
Charlotte Hearts Gigabit is a grassroots team of entrepreneurs and tech geeks who believe a Gigabit Internet infrastructure will be great for Charlotte. Their mission is to encourage the ISPs to build a residential Gigabit Internet infrastructure in Charlotte, to keep the community updated on progress, and to encourage community collaboration and entrepreneurship.
CHG is actively looking for volunteers and sponsors. If interested in this topic please sign up for their monthly newsletter at charlotteheartsgigabit.com, and follow them on Twitter @CltHeartsGb. Email them at email@example.com.