Google Fiber signage surrounds a building on Seventh Street in uptown Charlotte where the company plans its “Fiber Space.” Here customers will be able to meet with Google Fiber representatives, try high-speed Internet and eventually sign up for service. TODD SUMLIN tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com
Google Fiber signage surrounds a building on Seventh Street in uptown Charlotte where the company plans its “Fiber Space.” Here customers will be able to meet with Google Fiber representatives, try high-speed Internet and eventually sign up for service. TODD SUMLIN tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

Business

A year later, Google Fiber makes headway on Charlotte high-speed network

January 26, 2016 06:33 PM

One year after announcing plans to come to Charlotte, Google Fiber has construction underway in the northeastern corner of the city along with permits to do more work in other locations.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant, however, isn’t yet saying when it will start serving customers and adding to the competition for broadband and television service.

Google Fiber has told Charlotte officials it expects to install service for the whole city, but the company’s initial focus has been a swath of territory from northeastern Charlotte to south of uptown, according to a map provided by the Charlotte Department of Transportation.

The stretch includes higher-income neighborhoods such as Myers Park and Dilworth, as well as less affluent areas north of uptown.

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So far, the company has applied for 72 permits to work in the right of way along city streets, according to CDOT. Google Fiber is installing the “backbone” for its system along major thoroughfares, constructing 19 “network huts” that will serve as key connection points and laying cable along streets in some areas.

“It’s been really busy,” said Kruti Desai, right-of-way section manager for CDOT, which issues permits for work by Google Fiber and other utilities.

The Observer reported this summer that the company had started work in the Highland Creek neighborhood in the University area, where residents have faced some disruptions such as damaged gas lines. The company has previously said where it starts construction doesn’t necessarily indicate where service will be first offered.

Google announced one year ago Wednesday that Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta, and Nashville, Tenn., were the next metro areas in line for its high-speed network, which promises Internet speeds up to 100 times faster than normal broadband. Google already has operations in Kansas City; Austin, Texas; and Provo, Utah.

The move revved up competition for high-speed service. Both AT&T and Time Warner Cable have been rolling out faster speeds in the city.

To bring service to the city, Google Fiber must complete a massive, neighborhood-by-neighborhood construction project involving 3,200 miles of cable.

The company must consult with the city on its design plans, receive permits and have its work inspected. Once a permit is issued, utilities have six months to complete the work but can receive an extension, Desai, of CDOT, said. About 40 contractors are performing the work for Google Fiber, she said.

Under a 2007 city ordinance, utilities pay a fee that covers the city’s cost of permitting and inspecting this type of work.

The city of Charlotte has received some complaints about the work, but the company has worked to correct problems, Desai said. The complaints have ranged from people wondering who was working in their yard to concerns about how their lawns were restored.

“We definitely have gotten some calls,” she said. “But it’s about all utilities. I thought I would hear more.”

Before starting work, Google says it alerts residents who may be affected with a notification on their door that includes a toll-free hotline available 24 hours a day. The company’s community impact manager also works with community and neighborhood groups.

After work is completed, crews take steps to restore the site, the company said. Google Fiber said it encourages residents with concerns to call its hotline. The city said residents with questions can also call 311.

“Over the last year, we’ve made great progress in bringing Google Fiber to Charlotte,” said Jess George, Google Fiber’s Charlotte community impact manager, in a statement. “In 2015, we completed our detailed study of Charlotte, designed our fiber network from scratch, and began laying thousands of miles of fiber cables throughout the area.”

The company is “thankful to the city and its leaders for their hard work and commitment to gigabit speeds, and we’re looking forward to making even more progress in 2016,” George added.

The company hasn’t yet said when the service will be available. In June, Charlotte officials said Google was likely 18 months away from serving its first customers and that the service wouldn’t be widely available at the beginning. Interested customers can sign up for email notifications from Google online.

Focus on inclusion

As it’s building out a network, Google divides a city into “Fiberhoods,” neighborhoods based on its design and engineering requirements. The company then asks consumers to preregister, and it brings the network to those areas that meet a certain threshold.

In 2012, when Google installed fiber in its first location – Kansas City, in Kansas and Missouri – the selection process drew criticism. As the deadline approached for neighborhoods to meet registration requirements, higher-income white neighborhoods were meeting the threshold, while lower-income, predominantly black neighborhoods were not. That led to a door-to-door push by city leaders and community advocates to sign up more residents.

Charlotte leaders have emphasized the importance of digital inclusion since Google said in February 2014 that it was considering the city for the service. More than 28 percent of Charlotte residents do not have broadband access in their homes, according to Google Fiber.

In an effort to promote digital inclusion, the company said it has awarded fellowships to two people in Charlotte developing inclusion programs. It is also working with the local housing authority and other groups to provide free access and collaborating on digital literacy classes and computer labs.

One of the most visible signs of Google Fiber’s arrival in Charlotte will be the company’s Google Fiber Space at 301 E. Seventh St., near First Ward Park in uptown. At the location, residents will be able to meet company representatives, sign up for service, and participate in workshops and other events.

The company said the space will open when it starts signing up customers – at a date to be determined.

Rick Rothacker: 704-358-5170, @rickrothacker

Google Fiber cost

Google Fiber hasn’t disclosed prices for the Charlotte market, but in other cities it charges $130 a month for a high-speed Internet/TV package or $70 a month for just high-speed Internet. Its high-speed gigabit service would allow a user to download 25 songs in one second. The company also offers a much slower, basic Internet service that is free after a $300 one-time construction charge.