The addition of Google’s ultra-fast broadband Internet to Raleigh and a half dozen surrounding towns and cities will be a boon to the area’s economy, but not all of Wake County’s communities are feeling the love from the tech giant.
On Tuesday, the California-based company announced that it would bring its Google Fiber service to Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, Garner, Morrisville and Carrboro. Once available, the service will offer residents and small businesses 1 Gigabit per second Internet speeds. For comparison, Google cites the average American broadband speed as 11.5 Mbps — or 0.0115 Gbps per second.
Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday said the ultra-fast broadband will be a “selling point” for North Carolina, and N.C. State economist Mike Walden added its availability will be a factor in people deciding to move to the Triangle area.
“It’s another factor that real estate people and others in the area can use to say it’s an advantage of living here in metropolitan North Carolina,” Walden said.
Jesica Averhart, the director of New Business Development for the American Tobacco Campus, echoed, “It means jobs, it means new industry that maybe we haven’t seen before.”
Walden said it may ultimately cost consumers more to connect to the fiber network, but that’s a cost that businesses say they are willing to afford.
“For Google Fiber as opposed to what we are getting — I don’t mind paying a little extra for it because it will defiantly improve a lot of the Internet issues we have now a days,” said Ed Valdez, with Sir Speedy Printing and Marketing.
Sir Speedy depends on the ability to move huge files to and from customers. So Google Fiber will mean more money in the cash register
“Getting them a lot quicker means a lot faster productivity for us,” Valdez pointed out.
Apex bids for Fiber
While Google’s announcement elicited excitement across much of the Triangle, it left the towns of Apex and Wake Forest wondering why they were left behind.
“We were willing to go overboard,” said Bruce Radford, town manager for Apex.
Radford said Apex rose to the top 10 communities in 2010 being considered by Google for the service from a list of more than 1,100 areas that submitted requests for consideration. Among other area municipalities that applied for the service were Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, but Google ultimately decided to launch its high-speed broadband in Kansas City, later expanding to Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah.
Because Apex was a finalist during the first Google Fiber offering, Radford said he knew the town would be considered this time around. That meant doing all it could to attract the Gigabit service.
Radford said the town offered Google free or low-cost access to utility poles, right-of-way and space in public parks for equipment and hire a person to be the day-to-day contact between Apex and Google.
Despite those efforts, Radford said it was clear Apex would not get the service when the North Carolina Next Generation Network laid out guidelines pushing for Google Fiber in Raleigh, as well as towns that border the Capital City or those with universities. Apex borders the Cary and Holly Springs municipalities.
Radford said the town applied for the service separate from NCNGN, but was not selected.
“All is not lost,” Radford said about Apex’s prospects of getting a fast service, adding that density is a primary factor Google looks for in adding the service, so he does not think the service will stop at the Cary/Apex line.
He said he “fully expects” the service to leapfrog into some Apex neighborhoods.
According to the NCNGN, it has seen Gigabit services expand to neighboring communities based on demand in those communities.
“While we can’t know for certain that this will happen, there is potential that even if your community is not part of the effort today, gigabit services may still be made available to you in the future,” the coalition said.
“There may also be indirect benefits. Experience in other communities also suggests that when one provider begins offering significantly higher speed services at attractive prices, other providers increase the speeds and/or lower the prices of their offerings in the same community and in nearby communities to compete.”
In the meantime, the town is eyeing other Gigabit services coming in the future, such as from AT&T, Radford said.
Wake Forest looks beyond Google
Unlike Apex, Wake Forest does border Raleigh, however it was not a part of the NCNGN coalition that applied for the service. Still, Deputy Town Manager Roe O’Donnell said the town did not take it upon itself to formally apply.
O’Donnell said Shelby-based company RST Fiber is in the process of bringing Gigabit service to Wake Forest, laying down 14 miles of fiber all the way to Raleigh, with plans of running it up toward Henderson as well. O’Donnell said RST Fiber is willing to add the service to a neighborhood if at least 30 percent of residents there want to sign up for it.
O’Donnell said he receives two to three emails a day from residents interested in ultra-fast Internet service. But while some homes have been connected to RST Fiber’s lines, the service has not yet been activated because of delays due to funding problems.
O’Donnell said a new Technology Advisory Board met Monday for the first time to address ways to bring ultra-fast Internet to the town. He said the group will put together a letter to Google about what it has to offer.
Like Apex, Wake Forest is offering its utility poles to attract Google and any other company willing to install Gigabit service.
Building a Fiber network
In the seven Triangle towns and cities that Google announced will receive the service, it’s now a waiting game. Google has not made its connection timeline public yet, saying that “bringing Google Fiber to these cities is a long-term investment” and that “building a fiber network takes time.”
“We are, right now, going to be hiring a small, local team of Googlers in the Raleigh-Durham area,” said Michael Slinger, Google Fiber’s director of Business Operations.
Raleigh said in a news release it expects construction on the network to begin in several months, which Google said will entail working with “cities to create a detailed map of where we can put our thousands of miles of fiber, using existing infrastructure such as utility poles and underground conduit, and making sure to avoid things like gas and water lines.”
The company added, “Then a team of surveyors and engineers will hit the streets to fill in missing details. Once we’re done designing the network (which we expect to wrap up in a few months), we’ll start construction.”
Once completed, it is estimated that Google Fiber’s Gigabit service will be offered standalone for $70 per month based on its pricing in Kansas City, Austin and Provo.
AT&T also offers a fiber optic Gigabit Internet service in Raleigh, Cary, Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Winston-Salem known as U-verse with AT&T GigaPower. It has announced plans to expand in Durham, Greensboro and Charlotte.
AT&T’s service is $120 per month with a one-year contract.
WNCN’s Steve Sbraccia, Justin Quesinberry and Jake Seaton contributed to this report.
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