Developers: Ultrahigh-speed Internet isn’t just a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity

Ultrahigh-speed Internet such as Google Fiber still seems a bit fantastical to many people, but developers and real estate professionals say they can’t afford not to integrate the fastest speeds into new buildings any more than they could neglect to install plumbing.

Google Fiber is preparing to roll out its gigabit-speed Internet service locally – an executive said Thursday the company hopes to “light up” its first houses in Charlotte this year – and competitors such as Time Warner Cable are boosting their speeds as well.

“Reliable, fast Internet is a hot topic in the real estate community,” said Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble, at a forum in South End sponsored by the Urban Land Institute. Here’s what some of the players had to say about how the new ultraconnectivity is changing real estate:

▪ Get ultrahigh speed right, or get punished in the marketplace. “I wouldn’t say (renters) ask for it. They expect if. If it’s not there, they won’t live there,” said Greg McDonald, director of telecom support for Greystar, which is building the Ascent apartment tower uptown. He said millennials especially expect the highest speeds.

Slow Internet service now constitutes a major risk for a property’s reputation. “We can’t tolerate a customer tweeting ‘I can’t get my Internet connectivity,’” said Tyler Niess, chief marketing officer for Charlotte-based Crescent Communities, which is developing multiple local apartment, office and hotel towers. “It’s a real risk.”

And Ian Davis, an attorney who works out telecom deals for real estate companies, put the impact of slow speeds like this: “Residents slaughter you on social media.”

▪ “Forget about ‘everyone is connected’ – that’s so last year. Now, every thing is connected. That’s what Lee Bienstock, a Google executive from New York, said real estate companies have to consider. Americans will average 50 Internet-connected devices in their homes in five years, all running on broadband networks that have to handle the traffic. That means buildings will have to be developed with that level of connectivity built in, or face expensive retrofits.

▪ More lawsuits. Davis said that in the first 14 or so years of his practice, he only saw about a dozen cases where a building operator aggressively went after a telecom provider for poor service. “A lot of people in the past were like, ‘Ah, just give me a contract, I’ll sign it,’” said Davis. But as Internet speed becomes more and more important, Davis said building operators are more willing to take action if someone they’ve signed an exclusive contract with doesn’t deliver the best service. He said his firm is handling about two dozen such cases right now.

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Twitter: @ESPortillo

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