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TMCNet:  Google Fiber installations under way

[November 13, 2012]

Google Fiber installations under way

Nov 13, 2012 (The Kansas City Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Google Inc. officially kicked off installations today of its long-promised ultra-fast Internet to Kansas City homes.

At a Google Fiber event near State Line and Westport roads, the company said it was moving its home installations from the pilot to the launch stages, with the company pledging that the roll-out of its home Internet service, slow-moving so far, is now poised to kick into gear.

As bold as its promise of next-generation Internet speeds, the company said it had studied hard on delivering good customer service. For instance, the company said its installers, won't show up between certain hours, they'll show up at a specific time.

Currently, Google customer service director Alana Karen said, customers anticipate cable or Internet installation "ready to have a bad day. ... We are going to change that." The company has installed service to a handful of Kansas City, Kan., customers under a sort of "beta" test phase. With installations beginning today, they're at it for real.

Karen said customers will be delivered an easy-to-use set up and have ready access to real people by phone, Internet chat, email and social media. Calls will go to a contractor working in Austin, Texas, or to Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

It has hired a contractor using "local Kansas City folks" to install its service. Those people were trained in Kansas City and Mountain View.

Today's event showed the company is just beginning to deliver what it's been promising since it announced in February 2010 that it would show that gigabit-speed Internet connections -- 100 times or more faster than most consumers can afford -- are practical for the home.

Kansas City, Kan., was chosen from among more than 1,100 communities that lobbied to be Google's test bed for the service in spring 2011. Kansas City, Mo., was added to the project within a month. At the time, Google said its fiber optic cable would start pumping great rivers of data into customers' homes by the start of this year.

Instead, the project has fallen steadily behind schedule, although Google has given little indication of what's caused any of the delays.

Now Google Fiber is promising to wrap up installing its service through most of Kansas City, Kan., by the end of next year. It also expects to wire much of Kansas City south of the Missouri River and north of Interstate 435 by the close of 2013.

From there, it has said it will look to expand its network into the rest of Kansas City, on a schedule that still remains a mystery. After that, it has deals to move into the smaller north Johnson County communities of Westwood, Westwood Hills and Mission Woods. The wait for the later stages of Google Fiber's build out, if the company sticks with the project, will likely be years.

In the niches where it will become available soon, Google Fiber poses serious competition to the companies that have been selling Kansas Citians TV and Internet packages. It does not, however, include landline telephone services that are commonly bundled with those subscriptions.

Bargain customers can sign up for what Google calls "free" Internet service. A customer who pays the $300 installation fee -- payable in $25 monthly installments -- gets a fiber optic connection to the home and Internet downloads of five megabits per second and downloads of one megabit per second. That might be slightly slower than customers can buy from cable or telephone companies over copper wires, but experts say the fiber optic technology should offer more reliable speeds. After installation, Google will charge nothing for Internet service for seven years.

The first household to get wired, in fact, chose this option.

"It's just a much more consistent connection," Devon Teran, a Kansas City, Kan., teacher who's had the hook-up for a few weeks, told the Star in an interview this week.

For $70 a month, customers get a far more robust Internet connection of up to a gigabit-per-second. That's fat enough broadband to upload or download high-definition movies in just a few minutes, as opposed to the hours such data transfers take over more conventional broadband. Google is waiving installation costs for that service to customers who sign up for one-year contracts.

Customers willing to pay $120 a month for two years also avoid installation costs and get TV service and a Nexus 7 Android electronic tablet that doubles as a remote control. The channel offerings fairly mimic what consumers have come to expect from their cable and satellite providers, with the notable exceptions of HBO and AMC.

The high-end Internet and TV services also include a terabyte of cloud storage -- data cached away on Google's remote computers and accessible with any Internet connection. A terabyte is equal to about 1,000 encyclopedia collections, or 128 high-definition movies. Customers who have agreed to a service contract -- but not those who merely pre-registered this fall their neighborhoods for potential Google Fiber service -- can start using that cloud storage while they wait for installation.

Google first chose what it calls the Hanover Heights neighborhood, which also includes the Spring Valley neighborhood, after a pre-registration drive of Google-defined "fiberhoods" found greatest interest there in its service. The fiberhood is roughly bordered by 46th Avenue on the south, 41st Avenue on the north, State Line Road to the east and Rainbow Boulevard to the west.

Installations in that neighborhood are expected to be completed next month, Google officials said.

The next neighborhood in line for Google installation has been called Dub's Dread by the company. Customers in that western Kansas City, Kan., neighborhood have until Thursday to sign up for a specific service.

Google has determined to bring its service only where it finds strong demand. Going only where large numbers of customers are ready to switch to its service is critical to keeping construction costs down. That approach generated some criticism in its initial signup drive because Kansas City's poorest neighborhoods were least likely to show interest in the service and to deal with its no-checks, no-cash payment systems.

But last-minute efforts by various community groups pushed about 90 percent of the eligible neighborhoods over Google's threshold, and Google has pledged to give those areas that missed the mark a second chance at a later, unspecified date.

To reach Scott Canon, call 816-234-4754 or email scanon@kcstar.com.

___ (c)2012 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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