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Utah could beat Texas to Google Fiber starting gate

AUSTIN, Texas — It turns out that another city might be jumping in front of Austin to become the second U.S. metro area to get the super-fast Google Fiber service up and running.

Google Inc. said Wednesday it has agreed to buy an existing fiber-optic communications network from the city of Provo, Utah, and that it hopes to offer its broadband Internet access there before the end of this year.

The pending deal in Provo follows Google’s announcement in Austin last week that it soon will begin construction of a high-speed network here that will start offering 1 gigabit Internet access service as well as cable TV programming by about the middle of 2014.

Austin was the second city to officially land the Google Fiber service, after only Kansas City — but it appears Provo’s Google Fiber network will be ready to go before Austin’s, in part because of network infrastructure already in place in that city.

Provo began building a fiber network in 2004, but did not put it into service. The city of 115,000 people had previously passed a bond issue for $39 million to construct the network. The city started looking for a partner to buy the network and provide affordable service for local residents in 2011.

Google’s agreement in Provo is up for approval before that city’s council next week.

Google has proposed to pay $1 for the network that Provo has already built. It will upgrade that network with more modern technology and extend it to cover the city. It also will offer its free Internet service for seven years to residents that want to pay a $30 activation fee.

Google’s free service — which offers 5 megabits a second to customers — is about 1/200 as fast as its premium 1 gigabit service, for which it charges $70 a month. It also will offer free high-speed Internet access to 25 local public locations, including schools, hospitals and libraries.

Provo Mayor John Curtis said in a blog post that, while the city wanted to offer broadband service to its residents, it lacked the technical capability of running such a service. So the company issued a request for proposals from potential buyers of the network in 2011.

Google began offering gigabit service in Kansas City last fall, and it is expected to complete construction of the first phase of that network before the end of this year.

The Internet company is expected to start engineering work soon on the Austin network with construction to follow. The company is expected to divide Austin into “fiberhoods,” where residents can demonstrate their interest in receiving the service. Those areas that demonstrate the fastest commitments from potential customers are expected to be connected first.

Google, which generates the bulk of its business from Internet search-related advertising, says it sees Google Fiber as a for-profit business.

Analysts say part of Google’s plan is to prod existing broadband providers — usually cable companies and telecom companies — into speeding up their own plans to build similar high-speed networks.

In Austin, AT&T Inc. has also said it would build its own 1 gigabit broadband network in Austin if it can get an agreement from the city that is equal to the deal Google received. City officials have said Austin is required under law to offer the same agreement to other broadband providers.

“We look forward to continued productive discussions with city officials,” said company spokeswoman Rossanna Salazar.

Also Wednesday, Google said its Google Fiber cable TV customers will now be able to sign up for two premium offerings, HBO and Cinemax. HBO will cost $20 per month and Cinemax $10, Google said.


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