Google Fiber begins sign-ups for more parts of the KC area

03/11/2014 7:00 AM

03/10/2014 9:45 PM

Google Fiber

kicks off a push today to land customers in the northern and southern stretches of Kansas City and three suburbs — with a promise to hook them all up by year’s end.

That marks a far speedier effort to light up homes with the TV and super-fast Internet service than Google Inc. achieved in its first rollout of fiberoptic network.

“We’re just excited about being able to move quicker,” said Carlos Casas, Google Fiber’s Kansas City field team manager. “We’ve made some changes to our (registration) process.”

The campaign is the second for now-or-never sign-up Google Fiber “rallies.”

Residents of much of southern and northern Kansas City, Raytown, Grandview and Gladstone can begin

registering

this afternoon for the service and hope their neighbors follow suit. Prospective customers will need to put down $10 with a credit or debit card and declare what service they will buy.

Google

says

it will expand only where demand is greatest.

In Google Fiber’s first rollout, the neighborhoods that showed the greatest demand were the first to get the service. That created a hopscotch deployment. This time, hoping to speed things, Google will hook up the southern areas first, then the northwest and finally the northeast. It also will begin with larger installation crews and slightly fewer homes. The company says it will finish that work by year’s end.

Its first rally wrapped up in fall 2012. The company expects to complete installations to houses and apartment buildings in Kansas City, Kan., and the middle third of Kansas City, Mo., later this spring.

Google Fiber sells industrial-strength broadband (optionally bundled with cablelike TV) at home consumer prices. At speeds nearly 10 times those of most Internet hookups, it lets customers stream high-definition video to multiple screens at once.

This second phase of customer recruitment comes as the fanfare of Google launching its service in Kansas City has largely faded. It is selling the same service in Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah. The company announced in February that it is contemplating expanding to up to nine other markets nationwide.

This second registration effort figures to gauge the excitement for a service that has yet to spawn a game-changing use of the Internet.

“If you had a lot of really cool applications (that require ultra-fast Internet speeds), that would probably be a magnet,” said Donna Jaegers, a telecommunications industry analyst at D.A. Davidson Co. “(But) it’s too early for that.”

Indeed, the service, notable for 1-gigabit-per-second speeds to high-end customers, is still relatively young. The first handful of customers had the service installed in late 2012. Google will not say how many customers it has.

Google breaks up the cities it serves into “fiberhoods,” its name for neighborhoods. It then sets a threshold for the number of potential customers it needs from each area, ranging from 5 percent to 25 percent of households. The number varies based on the population density and the cost to expand into a neighborhood.

Analysts see the rallies as a clever marketing scheme. They coax bandwidth-hungry technophiles to recruit their neighbors. Google’s offer of free connections to schools, library and other public buildings is also contingent on signing up enough homes in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Raytown, Grandview and neighborhoods in south Kansas City have until April 10 to qualify. Fiberhoods in northwest Kansas City have until May 15. Gladstone and the rest of Kansas City, North, have until June 19.

In addition, 21 neighborhoods that didn’t qualify in Google Fiber’s first rally have a second chance with a June 19 deadline.

The companies that were selling Internet access and TV before Google arrived are reluctant to concede they have adjusted their packages. Rather, they say their increasing Internet speeds and occasional discounts reflect a market with an unusual amount of competition.

Time Warner Cable is the dominant company. In some suburbs where Google has yet to expand, Comcast

leads.

But

AT’s U-verse product moved into the market several years ago and now has more than 100,000 customers. Consolidated Communications

, formerly SureWest, offers Internet, phone and TV service to neighborhoods encompassing 140,000 homes in the market, and sells to nearly a third of those.

Consolidated overlaps with Google’s existing network for about 2,500 homes, said Matt Smith, the company’s treasurer and vice president for investor relations. Smith said the company lost some of its customers when Google Fiber moved in, but not primarily for the gigabit Internet.

Google offers three tiers of service. For $70 a month on a one-year contract, customers can buy the fastest Internet connections. For $120, that Internet hook-up comes bundled with a standard TV package.

But for $300 split into a year of $25 monthly payments, Google sells a relatively slow Internet service that promises download speeds up to 5 megabits per second and upload speeds of a single megabit per second. After the first year of installation payments, the service is free for six more years.

Smith said it is that so-called free service, that has drawn most of the Consolidated customers who bolted to Google Fiber.

“The demand isn’t there for the higher speeds,” he said. Rather, Consolidated has found more customers prefer to buy Internet speeds of 10-18 megabits per second.

Consolidated sells TV programming bundled with 10-megabits-per-second Internet for $66 a month. Time Warner Cable sells stand-alone Internet services at prices ranging from $15 a month for 2 megabit speeds, $40 for 15 megabits and up to $70 for 100 megabits. Basic TV and 18-megabit Internet from U-verse starts at $79 a month.

But most customers buy their service in discounted bundles. Unlike its competitors, Google Fiber does not include phone service, and it lacks the popular cable channel AMC.

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