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Google Fiber: What is it and should you get it?

Google Fiber - a super fast optical fiber Internet service for $70 a month –  includes a free Nexus tablet. Google Fiber is only available in Kansas City, so far.

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The $70 fee is more than what cable or phone companies charge for basic Internet service, but the service is also much faster. "Gigabit" speeds, or 1,000 megabits per second, are generally unavailable from other companies. One exception is the city-owned electric utility in Chattanooga, Tenn., which has pulled its own fiber and sells gigabit service for $350 per month.

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Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James, who attended the news conference Google held in a converted yoga studio in midtown Kansas City, was clearly pleased with the announcement.

"We now have an opportunity to take a giant step and if we don't it's all on us," James said. "It's going to be a great educational tool ... that's going to create innovators and entrepreneurs, and that's exactly what we want."

There are few ways for consumers to take advantage of gigabit speeds. For everyday activities such as Web surfing, email and video-watching, there will likely be no substantial difference. The higher speeds will help with video sharing and online backups.

Google is hoping that the network could help the development of other advanced applications that can take advantage of the high speeds. It's also hoping to spur phone and cable companies into upgrading their own networks.

"Access speeds have simply not kept pace with the phenomenal increases in computing power and storage capacity that's spurred innovation over the last decade," Milo Medin, Google's vice president of Access Services, said in a blog post.

However, it's expensive to pull optical fiber compared with using existing phone and cable lines to provide Internet service. Verizon Communications Inc. is the only major U.S. telecommunications company to have connected homes directly to fiber. Wall Street analysts say that project, which has cost $23 billion, is not paying off.

Verizon has stopped adding new communities to its network, dubbed FiOS. It charges $70 per month for download speeds of 15 megabits per second, less than 2 percent the speed of Google's gigabit.

Justin Venech, spokesman for Time Warner Cable, which provides service in Kansas City, said Thursday that he watched Google's announcement online and said he didn't see "too many things that jumped out at me beyond the speed."

"Kansas City has been competitive for video and broadband services for a long time," Venech said. "We offer advanced products and services today and we have experienced local employees delivering local services."

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Peter Svensson reported from New York.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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