(TNS) -- Nearly six years after Google began setting up cities with some of the fastest Internet in the country, the company will extend its lightning-fast gigabit fiber Internet service to its neighbor to the north, San Francisco.
It’s news long awaited by a city that has struggled to bring reliable and affordable high-speed service to businesses and residents. In 2007, the city, Earthlink and Google failed to set up free wireless Internet access throughout San Francisco.
“When that deal failed, it sent a message to companies looking to expand that San Francisco was a hostile environment,” Supervisor Mark Farrell said. “Fast forward to today, and access to the Internet is no longer just nice to have — it has become an economic right. It’s something we should be viewing as a utility on par with water and electricity. No one can function in modern society without the Internet.”
Gigabit Internet speed is roughly equivalent to 1,000 megabits per second, or fast enough to download an HD movie in about seven seconds.
Google is not the first company to announce its intention to bring this kind of service to the city — AT&T, Comcast and smaller companies have already committed to start gigabit service in San Francisco. And it won’t be a cure-all for the city’s connectivity issues, Farrell said.
But experts expect Google will still shake up the market, particularly given the power its brand name wields.
“Everywhere Google goes, the incumbent response is speeds go up and prices go down,” said Blair Levin, former executive director of the National Broadband Plan.
Since Google Fiber’s initial 2013 launch in Kansas City, the company has set up its fiberop network in five municipalities and announced its intentions to extend its reach to six more in recent months, including Huntsville, Ala.
Google’s approach to setting up in Huntsville — a city of 180,000 — and San Francisco will be similar in that the company will use existing fiber networks in both cities to introduce its high-speed Internet. The new service will come at no cost to San Francisco. It’s a new approach for Google, which had traditionally built its fiber networks from scratch.
Limiting itself to areas where fiber cables are already in place will restrict Google’s reach, but also expedite the amount of time it will take to roll out the program — which could position San Francisco as the first California city with Google Fiber connectivity.
“We’re looking for more ways to serve cities of different shapes and sizes,” Google Fiber’s director of business operations Michael Slinger said in a statement Wednesday. “San Francisco has a long history of creativity, innovation, and development, with its iconic cultural centers, countless startups, and dozens of colleges and universities. In thinking about how best to bring Google Fiber to some residents in this unique city, we considered a number of factors, including the City’s rolling hills, miles of coastline, and historic neighborhoods.”
Google did not immediately specify a timeline for when Google Fiber would begin its expansion to apartments, condos and affordable housing properties, or detail what fiber cables it would be co-opting for its San Francisco expansion.
Low-income housing properties will be eligible to receive the service for free.
A 2015 report by the cloud-service company Akamai Technologies put average peak speeds for Internet access in California at about 58 megabits per second — the 10th fastest statewide rate in the country. Delaware has the fastest Internet in the country with 75 megabits per second — a fraction of the speed of gigabit service.
Last year, Comcast committed to bring 2-gigabit fiber-speed Internet to the Bay Area, and AT&T announced plans to expand its gigabit service, GigaPower, to “parts of” San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. Lesser-known company Sonic, which provides business Internet and phone services to local companies like Uber, Lagunitas and the Golden State Warriors, built an at-home fiber network in the Richmond and Sunset districts of the city.
AT&T’s gigabit Internet plans start at $70 per month, and Sonic offers gigabit Internet and unlimited home phone calling for $40 a month.
Increased availability and variety are “steps in the right direction,” Farrell said, but not a solution to the city’s main problem: universal Internet connectivity.
“We need to be focused as a city and looking long term and determining how we’re going to provide this kind of high-speed access to every home in San Francisco,” Farrell said.
Farrell helped author a report expected to be released this spring that details various plans for how the city can guarantee Internet access to every home and business within city limits.
To help address the city’s digital divide, Google and the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network will also extend its Digital Inclusion Fellowship to San Francisco. The program, aimed at increasing digital literacy and broadband adoption among low-income residents, minorities and non-English speakers would work with local community organizations to offer classes to teach people to “set up email accounts, apply for jobs, access content across the web and more,” according to Google’s announcement.
Those interested in getting Google Fiber can sign up for updates online.
©2016 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.