Provo will be 3rd U.S. metro area to get speedy Google Fiber
Tech • Unlike 2 other U.S. cities with Google Fiber, Provo would use its existing network.
Published: April 18, 2013 07:31AM
Updated: July 7, 2013 11:33PM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Steven Staples and Whitney Wing pose for photos with their Google Provo shirts, after the announcement that Provo will become one of Google's Fiber Optic cities, Wednesday, April 17, 2013.

Provo will be the third metropolitan area in the country to get the much-desired fiber-optic Internet network known as Google Fiber.

In an announcement Wednesday at the Utah Valley Convention Center, Mayor John Curtis and representatives of Google said they’ve reached an agreement in which the existing city-owned fiber-optic network known as iProvo would be sold to Google and turned into Google Fiber.

The Google Fiber network will offer residents up to a gigabit, or more than 1,000 megabits, per-second of Internet speeds (both download and upload) to their homes. That’s roughly 200 times faster than the lowest tier offered by Comcast’s cable modem service. With such Internet speeds, residents could easily play multiple streams of high-definition video on their computers or devices without a loss in speed. Businesses, government and schools in particular could benefit from the additional speeds for research and work.

“We think the future of the Internet will be built on gigabit speeds,” said Kevin Lo, general manager for Google Fiber. “It’s a really exciting vision.”

Unlike the Kansas City area and Austin, Texas, the other two markets that are getting Google Fiber, Google is not building the fiber-optic network from scratch but instead buying an existing system. Kansas City’s construction is under way, and Google announced Austin as the second city about a week ago.

The deal is a sigh of relief for Provo city officials, who have been mired in financial difficulties with iProvo since construction began in 2004 —issues similar to another municipally run fiber-optic network in northern Utah called UTOPIA.

“We’ve been able to realize the dream,” Curtis said about the Google deal during an interview Tuesday. “It’s a very exciting moment for Provo.”

The sale, which does not involve the exchange of money but rather of services, requires that Provo taxpayers pay off the original $39 million bond that was issued to construct iProvo. The deal is waiting final approval from Provo’s City Council, which will consider the proposal during its regular meeting Tuesday. Before then, residents will have a five-day period to weigh in at one of six scheduled public hearings on the matter.

Google’s Lo would not specify when the company would start selling the service in Provo but indicated it would be sometime this year. Google has not finalized what it will charge, although Lo said costs would be similar to those in Kansas City, where residents get a one-gigabit connection for $70 per month. The service also would offer small business-class pricing.

Provo city officials first approached Google 18 months ago about selling its network, Mayor Curtis said. In the deal, Google would buy the network (for a $1 nominal fee) in exchange for upgrading the existing network, connecting the remaining two-thirds of homes that are not yet wired to it, provide a free lower-speed tier of Internet connectivity to all residents for the first seven years, and also provide free gigabit Internet connectivity to 25 public spaces, such as schools, libraries and recreation centers. Provo taxpayers still will have to make $3.3 million in bond payments on the system each year for the next 12 years, even though Google will own the network.

“We were excited about the opportunity — an opportunity to help the community to realize its original vision,” Lo said about why Google chose to work with Provo.

The Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce estimates that the Google deal could result in as much as an $18 million investment to the city by having Google pay for the total cost of connecting all of Provo’s residents to the network. The chamber also said Provo residents could save as much as $50 million in monthly Internet fees from the Google Fiber free service.

Provo’s original fiber-optic network, iProvo, was a partnership between the city, which owned the network, and private providers that sold the Internet services. To pay for it, the city issued a $39 million bond over 20 years. Although the city owned the network, Provo-based Veracity Networks sold the service.

Although the backbone of the network is built out to the entire city, wiring from the curb to homes and apartments is completed only in about a third of the city’s 35,000 homes, Curtis said. He would not say how many paying subscribers iProvo has. Lo said subscribers will not experience an interruption of service while Google upgrades the network.

vince@sltrib.com

Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi

Public hearings on Google Fiber

The following question-and-answer sessions are set on the proposed sale of iProvo to create a Google high-speed Internet system.

7:30 p.m., Thursday • Edgemont Elementary School, 566 E. 3650 North

5 p.m., Friday • Spring Creek Elementary School, 1740 Nevada Ave.

8 a.m., Saturday • City Council Chamber, 351 W. Center St.

1 p.m., Monday • City Council Chamber, 351 W. Center St.

5:30 p.m., Monday • Lakeview Elementary School, 2899 W. 1390 North

7:30 p.m., Monday • Lakeview Elementary School, 2899 W. 1390 North