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Want Google Fiber? The Fiber team tells us how to get it!

We recently had a chat with the Fiber team, to ask all of our Fiber-y questions. We wanted to know how Fiber came to be, what it means for Google, and what it does for the cities (and citizens) lucky enough to have it.
June 6, 2013
Google Fiber

One gigabit of download speed. It’s easy to talk about, but not easily conceived. We can read all the stats and data we like, but until it’s experienced, none of it really makes sense.

So, how can we actually experience Fiber? Building a fiber optic network is a huge task, so how does Google accomplish it all? More importantly, we want to know how we can get it in our cities. We recently had a chat with the Fiber team, to ask all of our Fiber-y questions. We wanted to know how Fiber came to be, what it means for Google, and what it does for the cities (and citizens) lucky enough to have it.

Why choose the cities you do? We know the qualifications, but is there more to it than that?

Not really, no. It’s really all about demand. If you look at the three cities we’ve announced, so far we have growing tech scenes in every one of them. That’s a big deal for us. If you think about Fiber now, it’s hard to really describe what you can do with a gigabit. We feel those applications are the next generation of the web, but they haven’t been built yet. We want to bring Fiber to those places where people will be able to use it creatively to come up with those apps.

It’s really all about demand.

Another factor is that the city leadership is easy to work with. We like to have good relationships with the Mayor’s office and city council. We’re building a pretty big, advanced infrastructure in their area, and folks who are willing to work with us make the entire process easier.

Do things like municipally owned utilities factor in? It seems so simple to just enjoy a good working relationship with the city.

If you look at the different market’s we’re in, it’s all really different. It’s tough when we say that, because people may think Google is getting some sort of incentive or subsidy in having Fiber in the markets we do. We don’t get any kind of incentive or subsidy. At all. It’s more about the process for getting Fiber implemented, and figuring out ways to cut red tape, make response times faster, streamline the process for getting permits expedited, things like that. Anything that can trim a day or two off the process is huge for us in building the massive infrastructure that is Fiber throughout the city.

So, basically, you want a city government that is on the same page as you.

Exactly. Things as simple as providing a single liaison we can get in touch with at the city, who helps us route requests internally at the city. Those are a big help for us.


When you get to an area like Kansas City, why is Fiber good for the community?

One of the things that excited us about building in our first Fiberhood (Hanover Heights) last November was that there was a huge startup scene that swelled around Fiber coming to their neighborhood. Folks bought houses in the neighborhood. They even call it ‘startup village’! There were venture capitalists who bought houses. Brad Fell, a venture capitalist who lives in Colorado, bought a house and is now renting it out free to developers. There is a group of people who believe they can build apps using a gigabit, and there is a great energy of activity around that scene.

It’s hard to put a finger on the economic impact so far, but it’s really good for the city. We hope this type of startup energy ends up being a long-term benefit for any place Fiber goes. Fiber is just one element of the growing tech economy in Kansas City.

What is the cost associated with building Fiber out?

We don’t really like to comment on specific numbers, but it’s a very significant investment. I’d also point to the fact that the cost of building Fiber is lower than it traditionally has been. The cost of the actual fiber is much more affordable, and so are the electronics associated.

Another interesting thing is that we build by demand. In July, we announced our plans for Kansas City. Until September, we had a pre-registration period. We divided Kansas City into 202 ‘Fiberhoods’, which had a residential threshold. Those residents had to go online, and request Fiber. Those Fiberhoods who qualified, based on number of respondents, were on our list for build-out. 180 of the 202 Fiberhoods qualified, , so 89% of Kansas City is getting Fiber. If residents want Fiber, we give it to them, plain and simple. Those with the best response numbers get Fiber first, sure, but we bring it to all qualifying Fiberhoods.

So you just kind of go in, get focused, and build Fiber.

Exactly. In our first Fiberhood, we concentrated all of our efforts (installers, construction people, etc.) into Hanover Heights over the course of a few weeks, which allowed us to build Fiber out quickly and efficiently. That way, we didn’t have installers spreading themselves thin all over the city. They can concentrate on one neighborhood.

Things like that cut cost, cut time, and allow us to bring Fiber to neighborhoods really efficiently.

Fiber Optic cable

How does Fiber fit into the overall Google scheme?

Google, as a whole, wants the user experience to be as good as possible. For instance, it can be frustrating when a YouTube video buffers. We have engineers here who are wholly focussed on making page load times faster. We want you to get the search results you want as quickly as possible, or that YouTube video instantly, no matter how big the file is. There is only so much we can do on the engineering end, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to get into Fiber to begin with. We knew we could make a big difference in users lives’. Speed matters!

Just like Chrome, which is really quick comparatively, we also want to deliver the best speeds possible. We’re focussed on Fiber to the home, but we’re also coming up with a business product. We’ve heard from a lot of small businesses that they also want Fiber, and we’re working on that.

Let’s say Kansas City is totally built out, or as much as it will be. Do you have a long term plan for presence? Will you keep an office there?

We have a team on the ground now comprised of marketing people and customer service employees. We have a Fiber space, which is a retail location, where residents can come in and check out the devices, enjoy Fiber, and get the experience first-hand. A gigabit is a really hard thing to explain, so we want people to really get excited and understand just what they have the opportunity to get hold of. We staff that Fiber space with product specialists who can answer any of their questions.

The local presence is really important to us. We don’t really have any plans on changing our current goals or mindset when it comes to community presence.

Google Fiber has a TV service, which is different from Google TV. What is going on there? That seems so strange.

Google Fiber TV is different, and has its own content agreements. We have about 200 channels, and a different interface. You can record up to 8 hours of content, and the hardware is meant to really show off the gigabit speeds. Google TV is just a device, rather than working with content providers as Google Fiber TV does.

How do you guys feel about other providers getting into fiber (as AT&T so famously did after Google announced Austin would be getting Fiber), essentially copying the blueprint you laid out?

We think it’s great. Really. If more providers built fiber, and did so in a good way for the consumer, we’re happy to see that. It’s great for users, and great for the future of the web.

If more providers built fiber, and did so in a good way for the consumer, we’re happy to see that.

We’ve heard that some other providers in Kansas City and in Austin may have lowered their prices, and may start offering their own gigabit service in the future. Both of these things are ultimately great for users, and for the future of the web.

Is there a build-out plan? Is it really just the cities that want it most, or do you have certain cities in mind to offer Fiber to?

The reason we started with Fiber is that we were talking to the government and broadband providers about the national broadband plan. Internally, the folks on our policy team realised it was one thing to talk about broadband, and talk about how broadband speed for the average american can improve, but it’s another thing to take action and do something about it. So, we put out an RFP, asking cities who may be interested in having Fiber built out in their city to apply. We got over 1,100 applications from cities, and about 200,000 applications from individuals. That’s how we ended up servicing KC.

Austin was a close runner up, and Councilwoman Morrison really kind of hounded us for Fiber after we announced Kansas City. She was adamant that Austin would still make a great Fiber city, and she’s right. Based on her tenacity, and that of the citizens, we decided to bring Fiber to Austin next. We go where the demand is. We think the future is fiber, whether that’s Google or not.

So, what about my neighborhood? Can I at least get a Fiber pole?

Sure. We’ll get right on that.

Google Fiber

Now that I’ve been promised a Fiber pole (holding my breath!), I’ll have to report back on just how awesome Fiber is. For now, we’re left to admire those cities that have (or are getting) Fiber.

Fiber is a natural progression for Google, and means to jumpstart a technology that will become more important as our digital lives progress. We’re increasingly dependant on connection speeds and devices, and Fiber provides the best experience, often at the best price. The trickle-down benefits are immeasurable, and it’s refreshing to hear about such a groundswell of excitement in Kansas City.

We hope it keeps going, and whatever direction Fiber takes Google, that the consumer ends up benefitting. The most interesting byproduct may be other providers lowering their cost, or getting involved with fiber. The Nexus line of phones helps shake-up carrier control, and Fiber may have the same effect on Internet service providers. Whether or not we get Fiber at our homes or business, that’s a benefit none of us would refuse.