Google Fiber is coming to Provo, Utah, municipal and company officials said Wednesday, making the Utah city the third metropolitan area to be slated to receive Google’s super-fast internet service. Google announced its Provo plans less than two weeks after it named Austin, Texas as the second Google Fiber city, following Kansas City last fall. Google Fiber’s continued rollout suggests that the tech giant aims to make its super-fast broadband project a real business, and not merely a shaming exercise directed at existing players like Comcast and Time Warner Cable.
“Once connected, Provo will be one of the first cities in the world where access to broadband will flow like water or electricity,” Kevin Lo, general manager of Google Fiber, said in comments cited by the Associated Press. Some experts have suggested that broadband access should be treated as basic utilities like water and electricity were a century ago, with access for all.
Provo will be different from Kansas City and Austin in one important respect: Google is buying an existing municipal fiber-optic network, rather than building its own from scratch. The tech giant says its Provo plans — which have yet to be formally approved by local authorities — will not detract from its efforts in Kansas City and Austin. In both those cities, Google is taking on Time Warner Cable, which TIME parent Time Warner spun off in 2009 as an independent company.
Provo is a city of about 120,000 people, approximately 45 miles south of Salt Lake City. “Provo, or the ‘Silicon Slopes,’ are a great place to bring Google Fiber,” a Google spokesperson said in a statment. “There are hundreds of local tech companies and startups who will be able to take advantage of Gig speeds to build next-generation web apps.”
Provo already built its own fiber-optic network — called iProvo — but the city was forced to put it up for sale due to the local budget crunch that so many U.S. municipalities are facing. This is where Google is stepping in. “Today, we’ve announced that we plan to purchase, upgrade, and finish the build-out of that network, pending approval by the Provo City Council,” the company said. That could mean slowly expanding the network to areas around Provo.
“Provo City’s vision has long been one where our residents have access to reliable high-speed broadband Internet,” Provo Mayor John Curtis said in a statement. “We know that communities are better – and communities are stronger – when people are connected. With this agreement, we have an opportunity to do things that few communities in this country get to do.”
Provo is just another example of how Google — a deep-pocketed public company — is working with local municipalities and community groups to test, improve and commercialize superfast gigabit Internet service in the U.S. Last week, the company announced plans to bring its service to Austin, TX.
Last fall, Google introduced its gigabit broadband service to the Kansas City metropolitan area, where 1-gigabit service costs $70 per month. For $120 per month, consumers get Google’s TV service in addition to gigabit speeds. The company also offers seven years of free Internet service at current (5 Mbps) speeds, after a $300 installation fee, or $25 per month.
“When it was originally built, the goal of iProvo was to provide affordable access to high speed connectivity throughout the community,” Google said. “We’re committed to keeping that vision alive, and, if the purchase is approved, we’d offer our basic Internet service (5 Mbps), which would be available to anyone who is currently nearby or hooked up to the iProvo network, for just a $30 activation fee and no monthly cost for at least 7 years. We hope to have service to our first customers by late 2013.”
Here’s how the The Salt Lake Tribune described Google’s deal with Provo:
Provo city officials first approached Google 18 months ago about selling its network, Mayor Curtis said. In the deal, Google would buy the network (for a $1 nominal fee) in exchange for upgrading the existing network, connecting the remaining two-thirds of homes that are not yet wired to it, provide a free lower-speed tier of Internet connectivity to all residents for the first seven years, and also provide free gigabit Internet connectivity to 25 public spaces, such as schools, libraries and recreation centers. Provo taxpayers still will have to make $3.3 million in bond payments on the system each year for the next 12 years, even though Google will own the network.