Over the next three years, Google will gradually bring online its ultra-high speed internet service throughout its hometown, part of an unanimously approved deal signed by the City Council on Tuesday. Hotly anticipated for years, the company's Google Fiber service promises to bring bandwidth of 1-gigabit per second, as well as phone and cable television, to Mountain View in tandem with neighboring cities, putting pressure on competing providers to offer comparable rates or risk losing the South Bay market.
As part of the Mountain View's approval on Tuesday, May 3, Google received encroachment permits to install 178 miles of new fiber-optic cables throughout town, about 45 percent of which would go underground.
Once the core infrastructure is built, the company will gradually bring online neighborhoods in a "wave throughout the community, one by one," said Google Fiber spokeswoman Jenna Wandres, who identified herself as a local resident.
"I'd love to have this service at my home -- it's fast, affordable and has great customer service," she said. "In order to bring these speeds, we have to build a network from scratch."
Mountain View has a longer history than most when it comes to bringing Google Fiber to the city. Starting in 2010, the council began urging local citizens to write the company to show interest. But four years later, when the company came back with details, council members began to wonder just what they were signing up for. As part of Google Fiber service, the company said it would need expedited review and clearance to submit plans for citywide work. City officials pointed out the company was avoiding giving specifics that would be expected of any other applicants, while making no guarantees that Mountain View would even be selected.
Google had a "take-it or leave-it" approach, as then-Councilman Jac Siegel criticized it at the time. But it was abundantly clear that plenty of other cities were eager to solicit the service. Among the publicity stunts pulled to draw Google's attention, the mayor of Duluth jumped into a freezing lake and Topeka renamed itself "Google, Kansas." One Minnesota mayor promised to name the city's first-born children after Google.
The Mountain View council voted unanimously to move the project forward.
At the Tuesday, May 3, meeting, city officials pointed out that some of their concerns from two years ago had been resolved. The company indicated it no longer needed clearance to install prefabricated network huts on leased city property throughout town, and they would instead use their own buildings. In addition, Google would need to install 4,200 underground utility "vaults" as well as up to 10 aboveground utility cabinets. That equipment would be located to minimize visual impact, said members of the city's Public Works staff. Council members were also assured that the agreement they were signing was similar to that of other South Bay cities.
Building out all this gear would still require excavation permits from the city. Wandres said Google already had agreements in place with AT&T and PG&E to use their utility poles. For the underground sections, the company will likely opt for a quicker "microtrenching" method of laying cables underground, said Public Works Director Mike Fuller. That would involve using a saw to slice through the pavement just enough to drop the fiber cable down.
Among the public commenters, Mountain View resident Wayne Holcombe asked why Google Fiber was building out individual cables rather than trying to link homes through local wireless hubs. He pointed out Google executives had mentioned in recent news stories they were testing out improved wireless technology for areas where it wasn't financially sensible to lay cables. It seemed like Google was pulling a similar trick to Comcast, he said, by charging individual homes for large data bandwidth that surpassed what they could reasonably consume.
"I'm for the Fiber backbone -- that needs to be installed first -- but maybe three years from now we'll discover that Google wants to push a wireless system," he said.
Asked by the council to address this, Wandres confirmed that Google was researching this technology but she indicated it would be a long way off.
"Our goal is to bring ultra-high speed internet to residents right now, and the best way to do that is through a wired connection," she said.
In other cities already outfitted with Google Fiber, the cost to subscribe is $70 per month for 1-gigabit service and $130 per month for similar internet service with cable television. A cheaper $50-per-month plan would deliver 100-megabits per second.
For low-income families, Wandres said the company would partner with government agencies and nonprofits to offer affordable Internet service.
For the most part, city officials described the expansion of Google Fiber to Mountain View as a net gain.
"It's great to have our home company Google here, rolling out one of their public products," said Councilman Chris Clark. "But the real element, if you look at the data, (is) the introduction of a little competition changes things; the prices for a gigabit of speed drops dramatically."
Now with the city's go-ahead, Google would begin a series of public outreach efforts, including a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hotline for residents' concerns. Residents would be notified when construction is set to occur nearby through social media and door hangers
Mountain View is not alone among South Bay cities signing up for the Google Fiber. San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale have signed similar encroachment permits while Palo Alto is still considering the project.
Full construction of the fiber-optic network is expected to take three years.
This article was edited to correct inaccurate information from a source on Google Fiber's pricing.