Google Fiber eyes San Antonio, eight other U.S. metro areas
Feb. 20--SAN ANTONIO -- San Antonio consumers could see cable TV pricing dropping and Internet speeds increasing from competing providers following an announcement Wednesday that Google Inc. wants to install a fiber-optics network here that is exponentially faster than basic broadband.
"San Antonians deserve Internet speed that is faster than Third World, and now we'll have it," Mayor Julian Castro said at a City Hall news conference with an official from Google Fiber, several members of the City Council and City Manager Sheryl Sculley.
Google Fiber already exists in Provo, Utah, and the Kansas City area. Internet speeds clock in there at 100 times faster than basic broadband. The 1-gigabit-per-second speed applies to both downlinks and uplinks -- meaning a user could upload high-definition video, photos or audio at the same quick speeds.
While no prices were announced for the proposed San Antonio system, a gigabit Internet packaged with television in the Kansas City area is roughly $120 per month.
Castro said during an interview that there is a certain cachet with being a Google Fiber City.
"And I look forward to working to make San Antonio one of those cities," the mayor said.
Google Fiber announced plans to expand its system in eight other cities besides San Antonio: Raleigh, N.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Atlanta; Nashville, Tenn.; Phoenix; Salt Lake City; Portland, Ore.; and San Jose, Calif.
Google currently is constructing its fiber network in Austin.
Sculley said Google's interest in San Antonio is driven by the market and there's been no offer of incentives to the tech firm. In fact, there's a likelihood that San Antonio would benefit financially from the deal through real estate leases and other fees that haven't yet been negotiated with Google.
Mark Strama, a former Texas lawmaker who now leads Google Fiber's Austin operations, said at the news conference that gigabit speeds would "fundamentally change" the way people use the Internet and noted that residents who didn't want to purchase the speedy service could sign up for free basic broadband.
Former San Antonio Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna, a longtime advocate of expanding Internet access and services, said Google's entry into the San Antonio area should prompt AT&T and Time Warner Cable to offer services that are faster and cheaper.
Competitors immediately acknowledged the Fiber announcement.
"We agree that competition is always better for consumers," said Melissa Sorola, director of public relations for Time Warner Cable in Texas.
She said the cable company already was preparing new products "so we can bring faster speeds and exciting new services to our customers."
An AT&T spokesperson said the company is collaborating with municipalities to roll out fiber networks: "To the extent Google's approach knocks down local barriers that delay and raise the cost of broadband deployment, all companies will benefit, including AT&T."
Bringing faster Internet speeds to San Antonio also could bolster economic development. Castro said he believes it would attract small-tech businesses to the city and help the existing tech industry here.
Graham Weston, Rackspace chairman and chief executive officer, said in a text message that the Google announcement is "a huge win for San Antonio."
"Google is selecting us for a reason," Weston said. "We are a city on the rise."
Kevin Lo, the general manager of Google Fiber, said a joint planning process with the city would take several months. Among other things, the planning will examine existing infrastructure, access to utility poles and underground conduit pertinent to building a fiber-optic network.
In San Antonio, the city-owned CPS Energy owns 86 percent of the utility polls, which could help Google Fiber install its network quickly. AT&T owns the other 14 percent.
In Austin, where AT&T owns a higher percentage of polls, disagreements have led to delays.
CPS Energy officials were unable to comment on the Google Fiber announcement or answer questions about the city-owned utility's involvement because of a strict nondisclosure agreement with Google, utility spokesman John Moreno said.
The city utility network owns its own fiber network, which consists of 650 miles of cable that connects its facilities, like power plants, substations and data centers.
CPS Chief Administrative Officer John Benedict told the San Antonio Express-News in January that as much as half of the network usually is dark, or unused.
Google officials said building a network here likely would include using existing utility polls and conduit that's already buried.
Lo declined to discuss specifics about the CPS network, but he did say Google would look to employ "a very common sense kind of approach."
"There's a lot of infrastructure already in the ground," he said. "It makes no sense to duplicate these things if it's possible for us to reach an agreement to lease or access it."
Google Fiber also includes television service. It would bring significant competition to San Antonio, where the majority of residents get their Internet and TV from Time Warner Cable and AT&T.
Lo said that "specifics haven't been ironed out" on the plans that would be available here, but it's a "fair assumption" that Google would offer the three plans that exist in Provo and Kansas City.
One of the three plans offers free Internet. The speed of the free service -- which has had a one-time start-up fee of $300, or $25 a month for one year -- runs somewhere between Time Warner's basic and standard services, which cost $30 and $35 a month, respectively.
Google Fiber charges $70 a month for its "100 times faster" gigabit Internet.
A gigabit is equal to 1,000 megabits. Time Warner's fastest advertised download speed, which costs $65 a month, is 50 megabits per second with an upload speed of five megabits per second.
Fiber's third option is a $120-a-month plan, which includes the gigabit Internet service and more than 200 television channels. That plan includes a Nexus 7 tablet and 2-terabyte storage box for recording shows.
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