Google has officially launched its first fibre network after 18 months of preparation and construction, offering residents in Kansas City access to symmetric gigabit speeds for the first time.
The search giant said it would start installing fibre connections at homes in the central districts of the city, which has a metropolitan population over approximately two million people, from September.
It is the company's first foray into internet provision, but comes after years of experimentation and dabbling in the market.
Google Access vice-president Milo Medin said the company had attempted to boost broadband speeds in the past but failed to attract consumer interest, while a 2008 proposal to encourage community-owned fibre networks also never got off the ground.
Google Fiber's ultra high-speed connections and television offerings are aimed at surpassing those of current providers in Kansas City, where the market is dominated by Time Warner Cable, which charges $99.95 for its fastest internet-only service there.
Google Fiber would be 20 times faster, and ten times faster than higher-tier connections currently planned for Australia's National Broadband Network.
A Time Warner spokesman said the second largest US cable operator had a "robust and adaptable network" and welcomed the competition.
"Access is the next frontier that needs to be opened," Google chief financial officer and project sponsor Patrick Pichette said, noting that internet speeds in the US had leveled out for broadband since the introduction of cable around 2000.
"We believe there's no need to wait, there's no need to be limited. There's no need for caps, there's no need for slow. There's in fact everything here to have an amazing abundance of capacity."
The search giant would look to provide faster-than-gigabit speeds in future.
Pichette said the company would provide access to internet services over the fibre network "profitably".
Fees and features
Under the Google Fiber initiative, users will pay a $300 fee for connection to the network. They could waive that fee by opting for a $70 per month basic internet package on a 12-month contract, or $120 per month internet and television package on a two-year contract.
The gigabit service comes with no data caps and is bundled with a terabyte of storage capacity on Google Drive, as well as a combined Optical Network Termination unit and home router.
The $120 per month television package adds a large number of high-definition television channels, digital video recorder and a Nexus 7 tablet.
Google Access general manager Kevin Lo claimed the addition of a fibre connection would improve house values by $2000 to $5000 — "like remodelling your kitchen or installing energy-efficient windows".
In an effort to attract interest from the approximately 25 percent of premises in Kansas City without a fixed-line broadband connection, however, Google would also provide a stop-gap service running over the connection at 5Mbps down and 1Mbps up for a one-off $300 fee.
Google guaranteed the service, which is free after the connection fee, "for at least seven years".
The connection would give users the ability to search live channels, Netflix, YouTube, recorded shows and tens of thousands of hours of on-demand programming. However, no phone service is available.
"The phone is really a 1940s thing. Why have a landline? It's sitting there, you use it once every two weeks," Pichette said.
Though Google has already begun rolling out fibre in the central districts of both Kansas cities, Lo said the company would rely on pre-orders from residents in outlying suburbs to gauge demand and ultimately determine the subsequent rollout timeframes.
He urged users to participate in a six-week "rally", in which consumers paid a $10 registration to indicate their interest and encourage their neighbours to do the same.
Areas that attracted interest from more than 40 premises in a given "fiberhood" — an area of 800 houses — would be prioritised against competing neighbourhoods in both cities to determine the next rollout location.
Schools, hospitals and government buildings would also be connected to the fibre network at the same time and receive internet services for free.
Google said it also intends to roll out product packages for businesses, but would not provide details.
Whether or not consumers will embrace the new offerings remains to be seen.
"They need to be able to offer something that is everything people have now and more," said Ben Schachter, an analyst with Macquarie Research.
"People are going to have high expectations for this. The worst thing they can do is come out and disappoint."
But officials said they are confident Kansas City will be a showcase of success for a larger rollout.
"Google is a very different company," Lo said.
"And this is not a short-term project."
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