Google picks metro Atlanta cities for fast Web

Some metro Atlantans have a giant new company vying to provide them with lightning-fast Internet and TV connections.

Google announced Tuesday that it will install fiber that will bring fast connections to homes in Atlanta and eight nearby cities. The move, which comes roughly a year after Google announced interest in the Atlanta area, pits the tech giant against other local dominant providers: Comcast and AT&T.

The company also announced plans to expand in Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham and Nashville.

In metro Atlanta, Google plans gigabit-per-second service — that’s 100 times faster than the average U.S. residential connection — in Atlanta, Avondale Estates, Brookhaven, College Park, Decatur, East Point, Hapeville, Sandy Springs and Smyrna.

The company has not set start dates or pricing for the service.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed predicted Google’s decision to put the city on the list will help build its reputation as a new technology hub.

“This sends a signal not just in the United States, but to the world about where the leading technology communities are going to be in the world,” he said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Reed said the city has been talking with Google for more than 18 months about bringing fiber to the area. Now the company will begin planning to build a network that Reed expects will eventuallycover the region.

Creating a fiber network largely from scratch is a massive construction undertaking that will employ thousands of workers, take years and potentially disrupt streets throughout the affected cities. Fiber will be laid underground or on new or existing poles.

Three months ago, AT&T disclosed its own decision to bring the same speeds to Atlanta, Sandy Springs, Decatur and Newnan. It’s still considering whether to also provide the residential service inside the cities of Alpharetta, Duluth, Lawrenceville, Lithonia, McDonough, Marietta, Norcross and Woodstock.

(Click here for a map of metro cities where Google and AT&T will offer ultra-fast connections or are considering it.)

Still, the combined areas being started or considered cover less than 20 percent of the metro region.

Asked about the prospects for expanding, Kevin Lo, who heads Google Fiber’s business and operations, made no commitments but said “the real benefits of fiber accrue when the entire region has it.”

Lo said pricing and packages will be “roughly consistent” with what the company offers in other cities, such as gigabit Internet connections for $70 a month and Google’s TV service for $130 a month.

Google is already deploying the service in Austin, Kansas City and Provo, Utah. The company announced in February 2014 that it was considering nine additional metro areas, including metro Atlanta.

Google Fiber requires commitments from individual neighborhoods before stringing cable to doorsteps. Depending on the package, homeowners may have to pay a one-time installation fee of $300, or $25 a month.

That could stall expansion into poor neighborhoods within the chosen cities, some say. Reed and Google Fiber marketing director Scott Levitan were short on specifics Tuesday about dealing with that concern, but Reed said he’s studying how other cities have done so.

Levitan said cost isn’t the primary hurdle to getting people online. “It’s relevance. So there’s a lot of work with the community to make sure people understand the importance of getting connected.”

AT&T’s gigabit project “is on track,” company spokesman Lance Skelly wrote in an email to the AJC Tuesday. But no start date or pricing has been set for that service either.

The speeds, Skelly said, “open up new possibilities for innovators and businesses, as well as consumers who want faster speeds for surfing, shopping, gaming, social networking, business transactions and more.”

Comcast has not said if and when it might offer its own residential gig service in metro Atlanta. The company already offers higher speeds for business customers willing to pay the price. For homes, Comcast’s top local speed offering is half that being contemplated by Google and AT&T. The cost: $399.95 a month.

“We have a great track record for staying at the technology forefront and delivering the fastest speeds to the most homes and businesses,” Comcast spokesman Alex Horwitz said.

Ed Price, who directs research partnerships and development for Georgia Tech’s Institute for People and Technology, predicts that Google’s entrance could push prices down.

“If you look at other countries around the world that are are economically comparable to the U.S., broadband is significantly cheaper, faster or both,” he said.

But even some fans of gig speeds say it is likely to be faster than what many Atlantans currently want. The city of Chattanooga deployed gig connections, but relatively few residents agreed to pay for the fastest speeds. Some say they don’t see a need.

Demand “will grow over time,” Price predicted. More uses will be developed, he said, and as they are, a gig-enabled metro Atlanta will be ready.

“It’s like a brand new type of highway we have never had before. Once we have it, we will see how people use it,” he said. “It will encourage development.”

Atlanta-based Cox Communications is one of the nation’s largest cable providers, though it doesn’t serve metro Atlanta.

Company president Pat Esser wrote in an email Tuesday that “Cox is committed to extending the choice of gigabit internet services to all our customers, not just a select few.” Cox already offers gig service in Phoenix and Orange County, Calif., and plans to offer it in all its markets by the end of 2016.

The company is part of Cox Enterprises, which also owns the AJC.

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