Why Google, AT&T fast Internet might skip your city


Cities under consideration and their demographics

GOOGLE

City… Population… % white… median age… median income

Atlanta… 425,931… 39…. 33…. $46,146

Avondale Estates…. 2,831…. 87…. 45…. $89,306

Brookhaven…. 50,603…. NA… NA…. NA

College Park… 13,781…. 11… 32… $30,387

Decatur 19,443…. 72…. 38…. $72,020

East Point…. 34,515…. 16…. 35…. $39,023

Hapeville…. 6,437…. 41…. 35…. $33,348

Sandy Springs…. 94,816…. 72…. 35…. $65,353

Smyrna…. 51,466…. 54…. 34…. $56,886

Google Total…. 649,220…. 44… NA… NA

AT&T

Alpharetta…. 58,075… 72%… 36… $91,991

Atlanta… 425,931… 39…. 33…. $46,146

Decatur…. 19,443…. 72…. 38…. $72,020

Duluth…. 26,995…. 47…. 36….. $59,107

Lawrenceville…. 28,595…. 42…. 31…. $42,420

Lithonia…. 2,053…. 13…. 31…. $26,705

McDonough…. 21,839…. 36…. 32…. $48,303

Marietta…. 57,451…. 55…. 33…. $45,014

Newnan…. 32,724…. 62…. 34….$50,563

Norcross…. 12,869…. 35…. 31…. $42,788

Woodstock…. 23,849…. 82…. 34…. $68,033

AT&T total…. 709,824…. 47…. NA….NA

Metro Total 5,291,701 56 35 $57,470

Source: AJC analysis of U.S. Census data, information from Brookhaven.

Some cities NOT on either list:

Acworth

Austell

Buford

Chamblee

Conyers

Cumming

Doraville

Douglasville

Dunwoody

Fayetteville

Forest Park

Johns Creek

Kennesaw

Lilburn

Peachtree City

Roswell

Snellville

Stockbridge

Sugar Hill

Union City

Google Fiber: How it works in Kansas City

Pricing*

Gigabit internet connection, plus TV: $120.

Gigabit internet connection only: $70.

Basic internet connection: $25 a month for the first year, then no charge for the next six years. (Or $300 upfront and no monthly fees).

*Prices don’t include taxes and fees.

Signing up

Google installs fiber to what it considers neighborhood-sized areas. Whether it then strings the fiber on to individual homes depends on how many people in the area sign up for service over a period of a few weeks. Google said it wants sign ups by at least 5 to 25 percent of the people in each neighborhood area, depending on density.

If you live in one of 18 metro Atlanta cities, Internet connections 100 times faster than most American homes have may be coming your way soon.

But if you live across the street from those cities’ borders, keep waiting for that page to load.

When Google and AT&T separately announced plans this year to consider bringing gigabit-per-second speed to some local communities they left unincorporated areas and most cities off the list of candidates. (Sorry Roswell, Lilburn, Dunwoody, Kennesaw, Chamblee, Peachtree City and a host of others.)

Government officials and community activists are confused about how candidate cities were selected. They worry that unpicked cities will suffer more than bruised egos, becoming less competitive for jobs and residents. And some are looking for other ways to get fast fiber.

“It’s pretty crucial,” said Van Pappas, president of the Chamblee Chamber of Commerce. “You have to be able to provide a high speed for what our society is going toward … Everyone wants to have this because they feel if they can, it’s a selling point for people who want to live there. It’s a selling point for businesses that want to locate there.”

Earlier this year, Google and AT&T announced cities around the nation where each said they are considering installing fiber to peoples’ homes. The fiber offers blazing speed to download movies without buffering, upload massive data in a flash and live on what, for now, looks like online’s cutting edge.

Google said it intends to decide this year which metro Atlanta cities will get the service. AT&T hasn’t given a timeline.

On a map, the candidate cities in metro Atlanta make for a confusing patchwork of potential speed haves in a sea of have-nots. Some of the haves are far from downtown Atlanta. Some aren’t. Some are bastions of wealth, others not even close. By race? It’s all over the map.

The groups of metro Atlanta cities being considered by AT&T and Google have a greater proportion of minorities than the region overall, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis using U.S. Census data.

Some candidate cities such as Alpharetta, Avondale Estates and Decatur have median incomes far above those of the metro area. But most of the listed cities are more poor than the area overall, the AJC found.

Demographics no factor

Google spokeswoman Jenna Wandres said the company first choose promising metro areas with a drive for technology and fast network connections. Then, within each area, its primary driver was to focus on the core city and the closest communities. An area’s income or racial makeup “didn’t play a role at all,” she told the AJC.

Fiber expansion is costly and will take years to complete, Wandres said. “We had to draw the line somewhere.”

Some locals remain frustrated.

“What about us?” asks Elmer Veith, who lives in a newly annexed portion of Chamblee, which isn’t on Google’s list.

But Brookhaven, which is across the street from Veith’s neighborhood, is. So is Sandy Springs, much of which is outside the Perimeter, unlike Chamblee.

“It’s a silly thing to pick one side of the street and not the other for a project like this,” Veith said. He tried contacting Google but said he didn’t get any more clarity.

Veith likes the idea of Google offering more competition and speed. He said if he could get a fiber connection he’d drop his landline phone and his satellite TV, relying solely on online connections.

Beth Shiroishi, president of AT&T Georgia, said the company looked at a number of factors in picking cities, including expected demand (extrapolated in part from data such as past purchasing habits), the existing network and how easy it would be to get permits and do the needed work.

She said AT&T has “a strong commitment to serve equally,” adding the company expects demand “from consumers across the economic strata.”

AT&T has said it is open to considering additional cities. Google hasn’t said whether it eventually might expand in metro Atlanta.

Neither has issued pricing plans, though in Kansas City, Kansas, Google Fiber’s first market, the company charges $70 for gigabit-per-second Internet connections or $120 a month total if TV service is included.

Complaints in KC

In Kansas City, critics said Google didn’t bring fiber into some low-income minority neighborhoods. The technology giant runs fibers along main routes in cities, but only installs it inside neighborhoods and on to individual homes when a sufficient percentage of residents sign up for the service.

That strategy cuts off some poor, minority communities from speedy Internet connections crucial to economic and educational growth, said David Honig, who leads the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, a D.C.-based organization that works in part on closing the digital divide.

“Fast broadband is becoming a necessary part of first-class citizenship,” Honig said.

So far, gigabit speed is hardly a necessity. Few Americans have it in their homes; most have speeds one-hundredth as fast as what Google offers, enough for uploading photos, listening to music, emailing and other uses. But Honig says history shows that will change. He contends that governments, which would allow Google to use public rights of way for fiber lines, should require the company to bring fiber to every home in any jurisdiction where it offers the service.

Cable industry operators make the same argument. Allowing Google to cherry pick communities to serve gives it an unfair advantage over rivals that are required to serve virtually every home in a community where are licensed, they say.

“We don’t pick and choose who we are going to improve the experience for,” said Doug Guthrie, Comcast’s senior vice president for a five-state region that includes Georgia.

Comcast, metro Atlanta’s largest cable provider, recently upgraded its residential Internet offerings locally with speeds expected to top out at about half that of Google’s gigabit service. Guthrie said the company will “do the speeds we need to do to be competitive.”

Atlanta-based Cox Communications, one of the nation’s largest cable providers, said it will provide gigabit-per-second speed throughout its system.

“It’s an important way that we can help the entire community, not just select parts,” president Pat Esser said in an emailed statement. Macon is the only Georgia market for the company, which, like the AJC, is part of Cox Enterprises.

Devising workarounds

Some cities not on Google or AT&T’s list are contemplating Plan B’s.

“The next step is to forget about frustration and try to create something ourselves,” said Pappas, the Chamblee chamber president. He and others are pushing the city to explore funding its own expansion of fiber, likely an expensive proposition.

Officials in other cities hope Google and AT&T eventually will come around or that competitors can be enticed to offer the ultra-fast connections.

In Dunwoody, Kimberly Greer, the assistant to the city manager, was tasked with trying to figure out why the young city didn’t make the cut for Google or AT&T and whether it could be added in.

She says she didn’t get satisfying or clear answers. “They were very consistent in their canned responses,” she said. “Maybe there isn’t an exact science to it.”