Customers give Google Fiber high marks

Small test group speak well of service but aren’t blown away

Kansas City StarMay 12, 2013 

— Installers show up on time. Headquarters often tells customers when something needs to be fixed without prompting. Unsolicited credits sometimes show up on bills to account for small service glitches.

Talk to a sampling of the earliest Google Fiber subscribers in the nation’s first neighborhood wired to the company’s service, and you find a pretty happy lot.

Yet Google Fiber’s customers in this first, small group don’t talk about the service as life-changing. Even those with its fastest Internet hookups say things feel more evolutionary than revolutionary. So far, they’ve not found new uses for the Internet. Rather, they say, it’s just easier to handle things they were already doing.

Those who buy their TV lineups from Google mostly talk about the delight of dumping predecessors, cable and phone companies that have had the chance over decades to disappoint customers.

Despite some glitches, many talk giddily about living in the first neighborhood in the country to get industrial-strength Internet connections at consumer prices. They’re regularly gleeful that they’ve found a new, endearingly attentive company willing to fill their TV screens with programming.

“The customer service is outstanding. They’re very apologetic if there’s a problem. They do their best to take care of things,” said Jennifer Tuttle, whose home was hooked up in November. “It’s not something you’re used to with that kind of service.”

Her experience rings typical of what the Kansas City Star heard from many in the Kansas City, Kan., neighborhoods of Spring Valley and Hanover Heights. The newspaper contacted dozens by online survey and telephone. They’re the first to get Google Fiber service, the ultra-fast Internet and TV service that could signal to the rest of the country whether home consumers can show a demand for next-generation connection speeds.

Broadly speaking, these first-in-line customers say prices run roughly the same or less than what they paid to Time Warner Cable or AT&T for Internet or TV packages before.

True, TV channels can freeze for a moment or two, Wi-Fi might not reach every corner of a house, the TV setup feels to some more attuned to Web surfers than couch surfers. None of the problems, however, seems like a deal breaker.

Home office workers seem the most grateful for the Internet upgrade – theoretically 100 times faster than most home broadband – even if the speedier Infobahn doesn’t entirely remake life online.

Dramatic ways to put the full 1-gigabit-per-second speeds to use could come later and figure to be more likely as the service spreads across the market and, next year, to Austin, Texas.

Can Google keep it up?

For now, just a few scattered neighborhoods in Kansas City, Kan., have been lit up with Google Fiber service. Google won’t say how many customers it has connected.

The early satisfied customers, analysts said, speak to the resources Google poured into a service unlike any it’s tried before.

“It looks like they’re pacing their installations based on their ability to fulfill the service, to take the time and make sure the installation goes right,” said Glen Friedman, who runs the Ideas & Solutions broadband consulting firm. “The challenge will be to maintain the consistency as they get to a larger and larger customer base.”

Another student of the industry, former cable trade group executive Steve Effros, said he fully expected Google Fiber to please its first customers. He’s less sure that the company will be able to keep a broader customer base as satisfied.

“If I’m the new guy in town and serving a fraction of the number of people as the old guy, my customer service damn well better be better,” said Effros, a cable industry analyst. “Do we really believe that Google is not going to have billing problems? Everybody else has security problems, but not Google? They’re human. They’ll find this only gets harder.”

‘Some growing pains’

A Google spokeswoman said in an email: “We’re going to continue staffing our support team so that our customers can always get their questions answered quickly, and aren’t rushed off the phone.”

( Google Fiber isn’t without flaws. Among the observations: “There have been some growing pains.” “I have experienced periods of very slow response.” “Still has some kinks to work out.” “Fiber Internet is great. TV service stinks.” “Buggy skips in watching TV.”

Google Fiber representatives talk proudly about the service but concede it has room for improvement.

“We don’t claim to be perfect,” said Carlos Casas, the leader of Google Fiber’s team in Kansas City. “But we are going to learn and make it better.”

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