SALT LAKE CITY — Google Fiber announced on Monday it had mostly completed its build out of Salt Lake City, with plans to expand into seven other cities in northern Utah.
"Most residents in Salt Lake City should be able to get Google Fiber service now. Doesn’t mean we’re going away. We’ll still fill in some neighborhoods we haven’t gotten to quite yet but the bulk of the city is done and we’re really, really excited about that," said Angie Welling, Google Fiber's director of communications.
Google announced it is currently building its fiber service in South Salt Lake, Millcreek, Taylorsville, and Holladay. It has also signed agreements to expand into North Salt Lake, Sandy and Woods Cross.
The internet giant first moved into Utah when it took over Provo's city-run internet service provider in 2013.
The completion of Google Fiber in Salt Lake City has been years in the making. In 2015, the company announced it would begin construction on its high-speed internet infrastructure, securing permission from the city council to build in the right of way on streets and connecting to homes. It now competes with XMission, XFinity, and CenturyLink.
"It took a little longer we anticipated for various reasons. It’s a big construction project," Welling said.
The Utah State Legislature has advanced broadband internet infrastructure as a necessity, especially coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic when everyone was forced to work from home and children had to pivot to remote learning. Governor Spencer Cox has pushed it as a rural Utah job creator.
"It’s the future. It’s not even the future. It’s the now and we need that readily available," Hildale Mayor Donia Jessop told FOX 13 in an interview Monday.
Mayor Jessop has pushed for increased internet infrastructure in the Utah-Arizona border community. Hildale City spent some COVID-19 relief money to expand its internet access to lure companies to town and create jobs.
"We have huge production companies moving in, mortgage companies moving into Hildale. Number one thing — do we have fiber available? It’s the first question," she said.
Welling said it was an issue that Google Fiber and other internet companies do grapple with.
"It’s a very fair question. The rural issue is a tricky issue to solve. It’s the right thing for policy makers to be talking about and asking questions about and it’s the right thing for internet service providers to be exploring how we can improve internet access in rural areas," she said. "It’s not an easy fix."
The mayor said right now, businesses do have access to the higher speed internet through local companies, but not all residences do.
"Right now at my house, I have to go around like, 'You have to turn that off, that off because I have to have my computer right now.' That’s how bad it is," she said. "So what I would like to see is enough ISPs [internet service providers] to make the price low enough because of the competitive nature that more companies bring, keep prices low enough so every citizen can afford good fiber connection in their home."
All new development in Hildale will have fiber access built in like they do with any other utility. But Mayor Jessop said it has not been easy. She recalled one company describing the internet access issue by saying "your community is unique."
"I’m like, 'I know. I’ve heard that a time or six,'" she joked, referencing the community's history with polygamy.
The Utah State Legislature has twice considered a bill to create a state office to focus on expanding internet access in under-served communities, including rural Utah. Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, got it through the House of Representatives with bipartisan support, spurred by the collective experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. She had support from the governor's office.
But it failed in the Utah State Senate in the final days of the legislative session.
"I actually spoke to a senator after that and asked why it happened, why he voted no," Rep. Dailey-Provost told FOX 13. "The answer was very simple: it was he didn’t like it had the word 'equity' in it. That was really frustrating. It just got caught up in politics and partisanship."
Rep. Dailey-Provost said she is not sure if she will try to run the bill again in 2022 or explore other ways to expand internet access across the state. But she said the state needed to address the problem.
"This needs to be something we need to lay the groundwork for and needs to be a top priority always," she said.