Google adds TV as it rolls out Fiber in Kansas City

The cost is $70 for gigabit Internet, $120 with TV, and users can also choose free 5Mbps service if they pay a construction fee

Google Fiber broadband service in Kansas City will cost US$70 per month for 1Gbps Internet access and $120 per month for that service plus TV, the company said Thursday.

Even residents who don't want to pay for the fast service will benefit from the project: For a one-time $300 construction fee, which can be paid in installments, they will be able to get free broadband at speeds comparable to DSL (digital subscriber line) service -- 5Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream. But neighborhoods where not enough residents pre-register for Google Fiber won't get it.

Google disclosed the details of Google Fiber on Thursday on its blog and on an information page about the project. The rollout will cover qualifying areas of Kansas City, Missouri, and neighboring Kansas City, Kansas, which won out over more than 1,000 cities that applied for the service in 2010.

Google announced in February 2010 that it planned to build fiber networks in "a small number of trial locations" in the U.S., in which it would offer service at competitive prices to between 50,000 and 500,000 people. The company described its project as a test bed to explore new applications, fiber deployment techniques and operation of a network that's open to other service providers. Google hasn't named other fiber cities yet but operates one network in a small community near Stanford University.

The company has divided the cities into "fiberhoods" and asked residents to pre-register for service and tell their neighbors to join them. Each "fiberhood" will have a goal of pre-registrations to meet by Sept. 9, based on the population density of the area. The fiberhoods that get the most pre-registrations will get service first, and should see it soon after the registration period. Google said. Areas where not enough residents pre-register won't qualify for the rollout.

Registration requires giving basic information such as name and address and paying a $10 deposit. The $300 construction fee for equipping a home for service will be waived for those who sign up for the paid services.

Additional perks for those who get TV service will be a free "Storage Box" with 2T bytes of storage for recorded shows, and a free Nexus 7 tablet to use as a remote.

The addition of TV in Kansas City makes Google Fiber more comparable to the services being offered by cable operators and carriers, though at higher speeds and with some Google twists. By way of comparison, Verizon Communications offers 300Mbps downstream on the fastest tier of its FiOS fiber-to-the-home service, and Comcast offers up to 105Mbps. TV is available in addition to each of those plans.

Google's fiber-based Internet service can run at 1Gbps both upstream and downstream and has no data caps. Customers have to sign up for a one-year contract for Internet alone and a two-year contract for Internet plus TV. The 5Mbps service also has no caps, and users can pay $25 per month for 12 months to cover the cost of construction. That service is guaranteed free for at least seven years.

Google's HD-equipped set-top box, which it calls the TV Box, provides access to TV, on-demand video and Internet content. It also includes a Wi-Fi access point. Its Network Box also has Wi-Fi, plus four Gigabit Ethernet ports and a built-in firewall. The Storage Box can be used for personal multimedia content as well as recorded shows.

But despite the eye-popping speed and added features, Google Fiber isn't perfect, said Mike Jude, an analyst at Stratecast, a division of Frost & Sullivan. Many consumers want mobile service and landline voice bundled with broadband and TV, he said.

"It can't be just as simple as data access and subscription TV," Jude said. Unless Google can somehow build those pieces through Android and VoIP, they may face competitive pressure.

Kansas City, Missouri, has a population of about 460,000, while its twin city across the border is home to about 145,000 people. By asking neighborhoods to "rally" for fiber access, Google is continuing its practice of having communities qualify for fiber service. On its information site, the company tells residents that winning fiber service for their neighborhood includes making free gigabit-speed service available to public buildings such as schools, libraries and hospitals.

Asking for pre-registrations is a smart strategy that reduces Google's risk, and one that regulated service providers probably couldn't use, Jude said.

Though much has changed since Google's 2010 announcement, including its acquisition of Motorola Mobility, a maker of both mobile devices and set-top boxes, analysts believe the company's vision remains the same. Google still doesn't want to compete against carriers and cable operators, said analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates.

"I think this is really more about building a reasonable-size sandbox that people can play in," he said. That play could include Google trying out new devices and services over its own network and watching the consumer response and network impact. "This is really kind of a marketer's and engineer's dream," Gold said. If service providers see what can be done on a fast network, they may build their own, giving Google a better foundation for its over-the-top services, he said.

Jude thinks Google wants to demonstrate to regulators that a gigabit-speed fiber network is feasible. If they see Google build one at a reasonable price, they may call on the established players to do the same, he said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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