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Google Fiber internet review: Premium service at a fair price

CNET logo CNET 18 hrs ago David Anders
a blue sign in front of a building: Julie Denesha/Bloomberg via Getty Images © Provided by CNET Julie Denesha/Bloomberg via Getty Images

I live in a city where Google Fiber is available, but I've not had the opportunity to sign up for the service. Coverage in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, was light before the expansion came to an abrupt halt in 2016. Still, that expansion is back in full force, and I'm holding onto hope that Google Fiber will eventually come to my neighborhood. I'll sign up if it does because the value is too good to pass up.

When I say "value," I'm not necessarily talking about cheap internet. Google Fiber has one of the highest starting prices of any top ISP. However, you get what you pay for, as speeds start at 1,000 megabits per second, aka gigabit service. Add in customer-friendly perks like unlimited data and no contract requirements -- as well as free equipment rental, a more uncommon one -- and the premium cost becomes more justified, the value more apparent.

a blue sign in front of a building © Google Fiber

As one who appreciates high-speed internet and is willing to pay a little more for it, I'd say Google Fiber is worth checking out. Few fiber providers, if any, can match Google Fiber's speed potential, let alone service from cable or DSL providers. You'll want to consider more than speed when it comes to shopping for internet service in your area, though, so here's a full rundown of what you can expect from Google Fiber. We also present how it compares to other ISPs to help you determine if the service is suitable for your home.

map: FCC/Mapbox © Provided by CNET FCC/Mapbox

Google Fiber availability

Google Fiber's availability is nowhere near rival fiber providers like AT&T, Verizon Fios or even CenturyLink, but it offers service in some reasonably large metro areas. Kansas City and Huntsville, Alabama have the most significant Google Fiber coverage, but service can also be found in parts of Orange County, California; Atlanta, Georgia; Charlotte and the Raleigh/Durham area of North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; Austin and San Antonio, Texas; Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah; and coming soon to West Des Moines, Iowa.

Google Fiber availability doubled from 2016 to 2020

The list of cities where Google Fiber is available is growing, as is the availability in markets where Google Fiber is currently available. CNET's Ry Crist touched on Google Fiber's expansion in his breakdown of the most recent Federal Communications Commission data, noting that the provider's customer base increased by 100% from 2016 to 2020, more than any other provider.

Admittedly, that increase brought Google Fiber's national coverage up from a paltry 0.46% to 0.98%, so it's still available to less than 1% of U.S. residents. That said, the growth is impressive and the rapid expansion continues. A Google Fiber spokesperson tells CNET that the company is "building in all existing markets" and "built more in 2021 than any year previously."

Furthermore (and encouraging to a suburbanite like myself), Google Fiber shows signs of expansion outside city limits. For example, Google Fiber is set to expand into Concord and Matthews, North Carolina, two Charlotte suburbs I would not have expected to be eligible. I'm still waiting for Google Fiber to reach me a little further south of Charlotte, but if it's available in your area or where you're moving to, here's what you can expect as far as plans and service details are concerned.

Google Fiber offers fast but limited, plan options

Google Fiber comes with two plan options: fast (1 Gig, 1Gbps) or super-fast (2 Gigs, 2Gbps). While gig service is typical of fiber providers and most cable providers, Xfinity and CenturyLink are the only other primary providers to offer plans as fast (or faster) than 2Gbps. And in those cases, it's only available to a small fraction of subscribers. 

Select cities -- specifically Chicago, Denver, Miami, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle -- have access to Google Webpass, a high-speed fixed wireless internet service similar to Starry Internet. There's only one plan available with Google Webpass (gigabit service), but cheaper pricing may be available if your building's network can't support gigabit speeds.

More and cheaper plan options would be nice (Google Fiber previously offered a 100Mbps plan for $50 per month), but I have to admit I like that gig service is the baseline. As streaming in HD and 4K become the norm and we're connecting everything from smartphones and tablets to speakers, thermostats and a plethora of other devices to the internet, plans with speeds around and below 100Mbps are becoming less practical, even if they are easier on the budget.

Getting back to value, Google Fiber plans are actually better priced than most, even though no "cheap" option is available. At $70 per month, Google Fiber's gig service is priced lower than Verizon Fios and cable providers such as Cox, Spectrum and Xfinity. Then there's the $100 per month 2 Gigs plan, which is still cheaper than what some providers charge for a single gig service. 

A good indicator of value is the cost per Mbps, which you can find for any internet plan by dividing the monthly fee by the max speeds. Google Fiber's 1 Gig plan starts at $70 per month for speeds up to 1,000Mbps, which comes to an estimated cost per Mbps of 7 cents. The 2 Gigs plan is even lower at 5 cents per Mbps. A sub-dime cost per Mbps is often a great internet deal, and the cost per Mbps of both Google Fiber plans is on par with or lower than most providers at any speed tier.

Google Fiber has straightforward pricing with no added fees

Google Fiber doesn't have introductory pricing, which means you don't have to worry about a looming price increase after 12 months. That's not to say the price will never go up, but there's no guarantee that it will after a certain number of months. Additionally, Google Fiber plans come with unlimited data (so no overage fees) and no contracts with a required service length (so no early termination fees). Unlimited data and no contracts are becoming more common among ISPs. Still, some big-name providers will require you to sign an agreement in order to get the lowest pricing or tack on $50 or more in overage fees for exceeding your data limit.

a close up of a box: Google Fiber © Provided by CNET Google Fiber

No equipment costs, even for mesh Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi 6 routers

Google Fiber's 1 Gig plan comes with a Wi-Fi router and up to two access points, which extend the range and coverage of Wi-Fi service throughout your home, up to around 3,000 square feet. If you need additional coverage, you can purchase more access points for $100 each. You also have the option to use your own router, but seeing as how Google Fiber includes one at no extra cost, I can't imagine why you'd want to unless you need a top-of-the-line router for serious gaming or other specialized uses.

The 2 Gig plan comes with a Multi-Gig Wi-Fi 6 router, which is the latest available Wi-Fi technology and estimated to be roughly 30% faster than the previous Wi-Fi iteration. The technology is exciting, but Wi-Fi routers can be a bit pricey, so it's nice that Google Fiber includes one at no extra cost. Like with the 1 Gig plan, Wi-Fi extenders are included if needed to ensure whole-home Wi-Fi coverage. There is no option to use your own equipment with the 2 Gig plan, but the device should be more than suitable for practically any standard home internet use.

How does Google Fiber stack up against competitors?

If Google Fiber is available in your area, it's safe to assume you also have a cable provider and possibly even another fiber provider available at your address. In that case, you'll want to know how Google Fiber compares.

Compared to other fiber providers -- or really any ISPs -- Google Fiber will have a higher starting price. You'll find lower monthly starting prices from AT&T Fiber ($35), CenturyLink ($50), Frontier FiberOptic ($50) and Verizon Fios ($40) but again, it is worth noting that these cheaper plans come with significantly lower speeds. If those speeds, typically around 200 to 300Mbps, are sufficient for your household, a more affordable plan like what's available from AT&T or Verizon Fios may be your best bet. 

If you're interested in gig service, Google Fiber is going to be tough to beat. Starting pricing for Google Fiber's gig service is a touch lower than Frontier and Verizon (both are around $80 per month) and though it's a little higher than AT&T and CenturyLink (both around $65 per month), the free equipment rental that comes with Google Fiber still makes it a better value in the end. You also won't find 2Gbps service available from the other big fiber providers.

The same advantages and disadvantages of Google Fiber versus other fiber providers are largely applicable when comparing Google Fiber to cable internet service. You're going to get more plan options with cable internet, including a few cheaper but slower plan options and a comparatively priced gig plan. 

The most significant difference between Google Fiber and cable internet will be your upload speeds and connection quality. Fiber internet often delivers symmetrical upload and download speeds. In the case of Google Fiber's 2 Gig plan, max upload speeds of 1,000Mbps compared to max download speeds of 2,000Mbps (which is still ridiculously fast). Upload speeds with cable internet top out at around 50Mbps, so you won't get anywhere near the same upload speeds -- which are vital to working and learning from home -- with cable internet service. The connection quality of a fiber connection is also typically better than a cable one, which can be susceptible to slowed speeds due to network congestion, especially during peak usage times. 

Where does Google Fiber rank on customer satisfaction?

Google Fiber isn't explicitly included with the American Customer Satisfaction Index national reports (it's grouped in with "All Others"), but that's not to say customers did not share their feedback with the ACSI. 

According to a Google Fiber spokesperson, the company partnered separately with the ACSI to gauge customer satisfaction and how it compares to the national figures. The result? Google Fiber reportedly ranked No. 1 in 17 categories, including Customer Satisfaction, Perceived Value, Security of the Wi-Fi Connection, Reliability of Service and Perceived Overall Quality in 2020. 

Diving a little deeper, I turned to the Better Business Bureau to investigate the number of complaints, if any, customers had filed against Google Fiber. There were over 2,000 complaints filed within the last year alone. However, as I waded through them, I found that most of them were about other Google services, such as YouTube Premium and Google Ads, Google devices, or problems with digital content and merchandise purchases. I couldn't find a single complaint specifically referring to Google Fiber filed in the previous two months.

Downdetector.com indicates that service issues aren't entirely unheard of, but they seem pretty few and far between. So far, there have been no more than four reported issues in any given month during 2021.

The bottom line

If you've got the need for speed, there is perhaps no better provider than Google Fiber -- if, that is, service is available in your area. Google Fiber has some of the best pricing on gig service and is the only major provider with a reasonably priced 2Gbps plan. Favorable service terms such as free equipment rental, unlimited data and no contract requirements, add to the value and likely contribute to Google Fiber's high customer satisfaction rating. The service isn't for everyone, however, especially those looking for a cheap plan under $50 per month. In any case, be sure to consider all of your home internet options before committing to one in particular.

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