The high-speed fiber-optic Internet network known as Google Fiber could be coming to Salt Lake City.
Google and city officials announced Wednesday that the Mountain View, Calif., search-engine company will conduct a feasibility study this year to determine if Google Fiber is right for Utah’s capital.
Salt Lake City is one of 34 cities in nine U.S. metropolitan areas that will be examined for potential Google Fiber sites. Other metro areas include, San Jose, Portland, Phoenix, San Antonio, Nashville, Charlotte, N.C., Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Atlanta.
“One of the questions is why Salt Lake City?” said Kevin Lo, general manager for Google Fiber, who added that the company approached city officials with the proposal just a couple of weeks ago. “From our standpoint, why not? We know how tech-savvy everyone is in the area.”
The company will conduct soil, topography and housing-density studies, as well as map analyses and other engineering tests, while city officials will hold public hearings and planning sessions this year. Lo said the company will make a decision by year’s end to determine if Google Fiber can be built in Salt Lake City.
“Building these fiber-optic networks is a big job. It takes a lot of time,” Lo said. “And it requires creating a great relationship with the city.”
Google Fiber is Google’s high-speed Internet network that allows residents to access the Web at lightning speeds, up to 1 gigabit — or 1,024 megabits — of data per second, both for download and upload. The system also includes cable-television service.
If approved, Salt Lake City would be the second Utah city to get Google Fiber. Last year, Google purchased Provo’s iProvo fiber-optic network and turned it into Google Fiber. It started signing up new customers last month. Like Google Fiber in Provo, the Google Fiber network in Salt Lake City would be for residents and eventually small businesses. The network would extend only to the city’s borders and not to other nearby neighborhoods or municipalities in Salt Lake County.
“We’re excited by the call and the invitation,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. “The opportunity for our residents is enormous. Bringing fiber to every household changes the dynamic.”
Michael Slinger of Google said that if Salt Lake City is selected at the end of 2014, he estimates that customers would be able to join Google Fiber about 15 months after that.
If Google builds its network in Salt Lake City, the company would pay for the entire build-out and operation of the network, and the city would not subsidize any of it, according to a Google spokeswoman. The cost of building such a network would likely run in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The first two Google Fiber cities, Kansas City and Austin, Texas, did not have to pay for construction of the network, according to city representatives there.
“They are paying all the fees required by the state,” said Rondella Hawkins, telecommunications and regulatory affairs officer for Austin. “We’re not subsidizing or waiving fees.”
Currently, there is no fiber-optic network in Salt Lake City that provides 1-gigabit Internet speeds to residents. Only telecoms such as Comcast and CenturyLink offer service close to that speed in the city, and then only for businesses. Earlier this month, CenturyLink announced it launched a 1-gigabit Internet service only to businesses in Salt Lake City in multi-tenant buildings.
Meanwhile, West Valley City, Midvale and Murray, along with eight other cities along the Wasatch Front, have UTOPIA, the municipally owned fiber-optic network that also delivers Internet speeds up to 1 gigabit. The consortium, however, has been financially troubled since it launched 11 years ago due to poor construction planning and a low customer base. An Australian investment firm, Macquarie Capital, announced recently that it is interested in investing in and taking over operation of UTOPIA and is conducting its own feasibility study to determine if it should.
Paul Isaac, interim executive director for UTOPIA, said he welcomes Google Fiber for Salt Lake City and believes it would help their efforts with UTOPIA.
“I personally welcome fiber anywhere we can get it,” he said. “It could enhance it because it brings more visibility to fiber and more fiber in the state.”
UTOPIA is an open network in which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can hop on and use it. Google Fiber, on the other hand, is a closed network that only Google would own and operate, and that could stifle competition, said Pete Ashdown, president and founder of an independent ISP, XMission.
“Having an open network is much better for the consumers in the long term, pricewise and servicewise, because there is competition,” he said.
Tribune reporter Christopher Smart contributed to this report.
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Google Fiber pricing
Service plan options in Provo are:
Gigabit + TV: $120/month + $30 construction fee
Gigabit Internet: $70/month + $30 construction fee
Free Internet: $0/month (for at least seven years) + $30 construction fee