Irvine next on Google Fiber’s high-speed Internet expansion plan – OCRegister


High-speed access to the Internet and cable television could soon hit the hyper-fast lane in Orange County, thanks to one of the biggest names in technology: Google.

The company’s Google Fiber division announced Thursday it has tapped Irvine, a city known for its tech industry and educated and affluent residents, for its list of possible expansion cities.

The so-called gigabit network offers blazing fast broadband speeds about 100 times that of standard Internet service providers. That means downloading a movie to a computer in seconds, rather than minutes (or longer). For workplaces, it speeds communication and data transfers.

The move – Google Fiber’s first foray into Southern California – could trigger an avalanche of high-speed Internet from competitors across the county.

Next up for Irvine is the homework.

The city must provide Google Fiber a list of assurances – such as access to existing equipment and obstacle-free permitting – in an effort to convince the company to install its network. Then city officials wait.

In other cities that use Google Fiber, the wait time from invite to confirmation was about a year. So far, no proposed Google Fiber city has been later rejected.

The tech giant’s fiber-optic network debuted three years ago in the Kansas City metro area; it soon expanded to Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah. More lines are under construction in Atlanta and Nashville, Tenn. San Diego and Louisville, Ky., also were added to the expansion list Thursday.

So how does little Irvine, with its significantly smaller population, attract a behemoth like Google?

The city, Orange County’s third-largest, is home to a population that most likely uses fast broadband at home.

Census data tells us high-speed Internet users at home tend to be young, affluent, highly educated Asian or white residents of metropolitan areas.

Irvine is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, with a population that is skyrocketing amid a blaze of building.

In the past five years, it’s added 38,000 residents – an 18 percent bump – and more than half of the county’s new housing.

In a blog post Thursday, the company described the expansion targets as “growing tech hubs with entrepreneurial cultures.”

Irvine – no stranger to innovation – is home to a slew of technology firms, including chipmaker Broadcom, Blizzard Entertainment and Quest Software. Last year it lost Oculus, a hot virtual-reality startup snatched away by Facebook in Menlo Park.

Mayor Steven Choi said installation of a fiber-optic network would dovetail with his initiative to position Irvine as the Silicon Valley of Southern California, or Irvine Tech Valley.

City leaders’ enthusiasm for super-fast service helped convince the Fiber team Irvine might be a good fit, said Jill Szuchmacher, the division’s director of expansion.

Its collaborative workplaces were also a factor, she said. In March, tech incubator EvoNexus and The Irvine Co. partnered to open the Vine incubator in University Research Park.

“We’re thrilled Irvine is one of the cities we’ll be working with,” Szuchmacher said.

Stirring the pot

Google’s foray into superfast Internet will likely spur competition among rivals such as Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable and Comcast, which have been slow to offer high-speed options at affordable prices.

Google Fiber’s network offers basic monthly Internet for $70, or Internet and television for $130 monthly. Premium channels such as HBO can be added for more money. Businesses can get a 1-gigabyte service for $100 a month.

Today, Internet speed for the average Cox customer in Irvine maxes out at 150 megabits per second. But the average broadband speed across the U.S. is just under 12 megabits per second.

The cable company last year said it was the first to bring residential gigabit speeds to Californians with its pilot program for residents at Irvine’s Park Place apartments. On Thursday a representative said more Orange County communities are slated for gigabit access by year’s end.

All Orange County customers will get that access by the end of 2016, the company said.

Meanwhile, its customers who pay for the speediest service, 150 Mbps, will see that rate double this year – at no extra cost.

Similarly in Austin, AT&T and Time Warner Cable boosted their services after Google Fiber announced it would build there. Customers in the trendy Texas city can buy AT&T’s GigaPower service for $70 per month. Time Warner Cable’s TWC Maxx initiative offers speeds up to 300 Mbps and “state-of-the-art” TV services.

Now TWC’s fastest service is coming to six more cities, five of which have or will have Google Fiber: Kansas City, Charlotte, Raleigh, San Antonio and San Diego.

Slow expansion

Last year, Google Fiber announced plans to explore expansion from its three initial locations to nine more metro areas that encompass 34 cities.

In six of those areas, construction – digging trenches and laying cable – is in the near future or underway. Three, including the San Jose area, remain in the pool of potential sites.

The rollout timeline is unique to each city, Szuchmacher said.

In established Google Fiber cities, the process took a matter of months.

Nashville residents waited 11 months from the announcement that Google Fiber was interested to confirmation the service would be installed. In San Antonio, it took 14 months.

In Irvine, the next step is a “joint planning process with city leaders,” Szuchmacher said.

Then, the company will study factors that would affect construction, including topography, housing density and the condition of existing infrastructure.

While “we still need to work out all the details,” Choi said, “we are ready to accommodate them.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-2221 or sdecrescenzo@ocregister.com


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