Ravell Call, Deseret News
PROVO — Residents of Provo will soon be among the most technologically connected people in the country with a chance for free Internet service at the fastest speeds in the country.
Mayor John Curtis Tuesday announced an agreement to make Provo just the third city in the United States to have access to Google Fiber’s ultra high-speed gigabit Internet. In addition, Provo will become one of the first cities in the world to have ubiquitous Internet connectivity in virtually every home.
The deal is subject to City Council approval, which is expected. Google Fiber will then offer free Internet service for those currently on the existing iProvo network, Curtis said. There will be a one-time $30 activation fee, "but that's it," he said.
Under the terms of the agreement Google Fiber would purchase the city’s existing fiber-optic network, iProvo.
“Provo City’s vision has long been one where our residents have access to reliable high-speed broadband Internet, Curtis said. “With this agreement, we have an opportunity to do things that few communities in this country get to do.”
Google Fiber is only found in Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo. It has also been announced for Austin, Texas.
“We are really excited to work with the city to realize the original vision of the iProvo network,” said Kevin Lo, general manager of Google Fiber. “This is a unique opportunity for Google Fiber to partner with an existing municipal network.”
According to the Google Fiber website, Google Fiber is 100 times faster than today's average Internet. Cities interested in the service were asked to apply, and the company received applications from more than 1,100 communities in just a few weeks, Google representatives said.
In a statement released after the Google Fiber announcement, Val Hale, president of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, said a quick "back of the envelope" estimate put Google's anticipated investment in Provo's network at $18 million, while savings for residents could reach $50 million of real value.
"None of this, of course, even begins to take into account the value to businesses and entrepreneurs of being one of the first communities in the United States with this super fast connectivity," Hale said. "If Kansas City is any model, we know that it will put us on the map once again as the ideal place for great employees and innovators."
Utah is already home to hundreds of technology companies and startups, and many of them are based in Provo, Lo noted.
“These businesses, and hopefully many more start-ups, will be able to use Google Fiber to create the applications of the future,” he said.
Lo said that once approved, Google would begin the process of upgrading and installing the necessary infrastructure which could began adding customers later this year.
Wednesday's announcement was a major relief for the city’s first-term mayor. About 18 months ago, the city began looking for a buyer for the troubled iProvo network through an extensive search process and direct outreach to potential buyers, Curtis said.
“When I came into office, iProvo was deemed to be the single biggest problem facing Provo City,” Curtis said. “The first step was to address the outstanding bond on the network. Now, we’re able to realize the dream of providing reliable access to Provoans in a viable way.”
Nearly a decade ago, the city had bonded for approximately $39 million to build the iProvo network, but issues arose that prevented the system from ever achieving its ultimate goal of reaching every household. The network was installed in only about 60 percent of Provo homes, Curtis said, leaving approximately 15,000 residents unconnected and no money left to complete the project.
He said this new partnership would allow the fulfillment of the dream city leaders had when they embarked on the development of the network years ago.
“When every one of the kids in public school has Internet, what are the possibilities? What does it mean for a city to be able to communicate with every resident electronically? What does it mean for economic development?”
The proposed agreement will go before the full City Council on Tuesday. If approved, Google Fiber would commit to upgrade the iProvo network to gigabit technology and finish network construction so that every home along the existing network would have the opportunity to connect to Google Fiber.
The company would also offer free Internet service — at 5 Mbps speeds — to every home along the existing network for a $30 activation fee with no monthly charge for at least seven years.
Additionally, Google Fiber would provide free gigabit Internet service to 25 local public institutions including schools, hospitals and libraries. City officials have scheduled a series of community meetings to further discuss the proposed agreement with local residents.
The announcement drew accolades from many including Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, whose district includes Utah County. He released a statement applauding Google Fiber’s expansion into Provo.
“Google’s announcement further validates Utah’s position as a popular hub for up-and-coming small businesses and tech companies, Chaffetz said. “This fiber gigabit broadband service will not only benefit the existing businesses in Provo, but will be a magnet to attract entrepreneurs. I am thrilled that many homes, schools, and businesses in Provo will be among the first in the country to benefit from the next generation of Internet technology.”
UTOPIA, a Utah-based fiber-optic network supported by its mostly suburban and rural member communities, congratulated Provo officials for the deal.
UTOPIA officials touted city officials for "leveraging its public investment to obtain the resources necessary to achieve ubiquitous connectivity for its residents, who will continue to support the system’s bond payments."
UTOPIA has suffered financial challenges similar to iProvo network.
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