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Google moves to expand Fiber

Google is taking steps to expand Fiber, its ultrahigh-speed Internet service, to as many as 34 cities in nine metropolitan areas.

Google has already started installing fiber-optic cables — which offer Internet connections 100 times the speed of typical copper cables — in Austin, Texas; Kansas City, Kan.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Provo, Utah. The faster the Internet connection, the more people will use online products, including Google’s, the company has said.

Google said Wednesday that it would consider installing Fiber in the Atlanta, Phoenix, Nashville, Salt Lake City and San Antonio metropolitan areas, as well as the areas of Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina; San Jose, Calif.; and Portland, Ore.

Instead of choosing cities and promising to install Fiber, Google is inviting cities to do much of the legwork — preparing infrastructure maps and paving the way for permit requests — before Google will decide whether to proceed. The company said it would tell the 34 cities whether they had been selected by the end of the year.

The initial installations have offered lessons for Google, which is not used to challenges like tearing up roads and trying to please citizens and local officials.

“We’re acknowledging readily now that building a telecom network or fiber-optic network is a really big job,” said Kevin Lo, general manager of Google Fiber. “One big push in one city can be enormously disruptive to a community that’s not ready, both for residents and city officials.”

Google, which declined to comment on its costs for Fiber, charges $120 a month for gigabit Internet plus television service in both Kansas City, Kan.; and Kansas City, Mo.

—Claire Cain Miller, The New York Times

Wal-Mart profits down

Wal-Mart Stores reported disappointing earnings for its fourth quarter and fiscal year, as the giant retailer faced domestic and international headwinds.

The company announced Thursday that profit in the fourth quarter, which included the pivotal holiday shopping season, was down 21 percent over the same period last year. Sales at U.S. stores open for at least a year were down 0.4 percent, and traffic in those locations declined 1.7 percent.

Excluding certain one-time costs, like store closures in Brazil and China, the company came in at the low end of its guidance.

In a call with reporters, William S. Simon, the chief executive of Wal-Mart U.S., said that cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, had crimped the company’s results. An exceptionally ferocious winter with multiple storms also cut into earnings, Simon said. He said the storms “aren’t an excuse, but merely an explanation.”

Internationally, Wal-Mart struggled as well. Net sales were down 0.4 percent, in part because of currency fluctuations, as the dollar strengthened against other currencies. In addition to several one-time costs in India, China and Brazil, the company cited relatively high unemployment and low inflation as challenges to its business.

One area where the retailer appeared bullish was in its small-store format, which grew 5 percent in the quarter.

—Elizabeth A. Harris, The New York Times

Deal reached to resume expansion of Panama Canal

Work on the planned expansion of the Panama Canal was set to resume Thursday after the construction consortium and the canal authorities reached a preliminary accord to pay suppliers and put an end to their dispute over $1.6 billion of cost overruns.

The work was suspended earlier this month because of the cost issue, threatening a project scheduled for completion in 2015 and designed to increase global maritime trade by allowing larger container vessels and liquefied gas tankers to travel the 50-mile canal.

—Raphael Minder, The New York Times