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Google Fiber: Here's What the Hype Is All About


Google(NEW YORK) -- When Google announced Tuesday plans to bring its high-speed Internet service to a handful of cities in the southeastern United States, residents of the areas went into full-on celebration mode.

Google's gigabit Internet service is coming to the Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham metro areas, covering a total of 18 cities.

 

Google Fiber is coming to the Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, and Raleigh-Durham metro areas: http://t.co/l0spJrIiSk pic.twitter.com/NFgOSwC7OJ

— Google Fiber (@googlefiber) January 27, 2015



While Google did not immediately say when the service would be ready for customers in the newly announced areas, it didn't stop people from salivating over the idea of Internet service that Google claims is up to 100 times faster than basic broadband.

Movies can be downloaded in as fast as two minutes, while Google said the high-speed service could help make advances in science and business.

With competitive prices, Google Fiber has also been able to entice some users to switch. The company charges $70 per month for Internet service and $120 for a television and Internet bundle in the Kansas City market.

"New research from the Fiber to the Home Council shows gigabit networks are contributing billions of dollars in economic growth," Dennis Kish, vice president of Google Fiber, said in a blog post Tuesday, referring to the nonprofit group dedicated to bringing fiber-optic Internet to more customers.

"Communities across America are demanding more speed for their own homes and businesses, and we're going to keep doing our part to help," Kish added.

Google said it expects to have updates later this year on the possibility of bringing Fiber to more cities. Those in the running include Phoenix; Salt Lake City; San Jose, California; Portland, Oregon; and San Antonio.

 

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Mixed Economic Reports Lead to Down Day on Wall Street


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street posted losses on Tuesday, one day after a massive winter storm struck the Northeast, shutting down transportation and knocking out power to thousands, and amidst mixed economic reports.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 291.49, finishing the session at 17,387.21.

The Nasdaq dropped 90.26 to a close of 4,681.50, while the S&P 500 dipped to 2,029.55, 27.54 off its open.

Durable goods orders decreased by $8.1 billion in December, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce -- down 3.4 percent from the previous month, the fourth month out of five that durable goods orders have dropped.

On the flip side, new home sales were up 11.6 percent in December, a sign that home buying may improve in 2015.

Also on Tuesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released state unemployment data for December, showing that the unemployment rate in 46 states decreased from December 2013, while just two states saw higher unemployment rates than the year before.

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SpaceX Shares Animation of Rocket That Could Send Humans to Mars


Spacex(NEW YORK) -- Elon Musk's private space company showed off a sexy new animation Tuesday demonstrating how its Falcon Heavy rocket could one day send humans on long-haul missions to Mars.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is so powerful it can blast off carrying a load as heavy as a commercial jetliner packed with hundreds of passengers, luggage and fuel.

A new animation from SpaceX shows how the Falcon Heavy, called the "most powerful rocket in the world," would operate from liftoff to booster recovery.

The first stage of the rocket has three Falcon 9 engine cores, providing an incredible 27 engines' worth of power at liftoff.

Musk has long been a proponent of recycling rocket parts -- something he said he believes will make space travel cheaper and usher in a new era for exploration.

During a launch of its Dragon vessel to the International Space Station earlier this month, SpaceX attempted a historic maneuver by trying to land part of a rocket on a floating barge.

The rockets came close to the barge but ultimately crashed at a 45-degree angle, smashing its legs and engine section, and rendering it unable to be reused, Musk said after the attempt.

Last week, Google and Fidelity announced a $1 billion investment in SpaceX, which will help the company push ahead with its plan to create a space-based global Internet service.

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Why Stranded Airline Passengers Don't Get to Go Home First


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- If you're one of the more than 400,000 travelers who were displaced by the snowstorm that hit the Northeast this week, you might think you'll have first priority when planes start flying again.

But you would be wrong.

Flight operations, according to flight tracking site FlightAware, are likely to resume Wednesday. Only 465 U.S. flights have been cancelled so far for Wednesday, while more than 10 times that number -- 4,699 -- have been cancelled for Tuesday.

But the people who are most likely to fly first are the ones who are actually ticketed for Wednesday. All the stranded passengers will have to fill whatever empty seats are available.

So why not bump the people who are ticketed for the coming days in an effort to help those who have been displaced get home faster? The answer is pretty straightforward.

"Doing so would inconvenience both the people who were stranded and the people with flights that aren't cancelled," said George Hobica, CEO of Airfarewatchdog.com. "Why piss off two passengers when you can only do one?"

There are quite a few angry people taking to Twitter to vent their airline sagas.

JetBlue said that it "automatically rebook[s] customers on the next available flight" when there's a cancellation. The airline, as well as other domestic carriers, do allow passengers to change their itinerary online if the original re-booking isn't satisfactory.

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Google Translate Gets Rid of Gay Slurs


Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- When Andre Banks typed the word "gay" into Google's translation tool he said he was dismayed to see several anti-gay slurs were suggested as synonyms.

Banks, the executive director of All Out, an advocacy organization, spearheaded a petition that gained 51,000 signatures in less than a day and quickly caught Google's attention.

"People use Google translate every day to make sense of the world, learning languages, trying to communicate," Banks told ABC News. "What we wanted to say is the common words aren't the same as the terrible words being used to describe us across time."

A Google spokesperson told ABC News that the company quickly worked to scrub the software of the derogatory language.

"We apologize for any offense this has caused people," the spokesperson said. "Our systems produce translations automatically based on existing translations on the web, so we appreciate when users point out issues such as this."

Banks said he was heartened by Google's response and always "expected Google to do the right thing."

"It’s important Google is able to provide an accurate translation of these words that describe so many people," he said. "We were really glad to see this change happen in hours, not weeks and months."

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Facebook and Instagram Experience Brief, Widespread Outage


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Facebook and its Instagram service experienced a widespread outage for about 40 minutes early Tuesday.

The social media company said the outage affected customers in the U.S., Asia and Australia.

In a statement to ABC News, a Facebook spokesperson said, “Earlier this evening many people had trouble accessing Facebook and Instagram. This was not the result of a third party attack but instead occurred after we introduced a change that affected our configuration systems. We moved quickly to fix the problem, and both services are back to 100% for everyone.”

Facebook has approximately 1.25 billion users and Instagram has about 300 million.

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French Alps to House Cable Car-Turned-Hotel


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — For die-hard skiers, it could be the ultimate in slope side accommodations. A cable car in the French Alps is set to become a hotel room -- but only for one night.

Airbnb has commandeered the lift in the resort town of Courchevel and the hotel room will be suspended 2,700 meters over the Combe de Saulire, Courchevel's highest point.

During the night of March 6, the car will be equipped with a bed and small living room for up to four guests traveling together. After climbing the mountain on a snowmobile, the four guests will be greeted with wine and dinner. In the morning, they will have the privilege of laying down the “first tracks” over an untouched snow run, making for the ultimate ski in, ski out experience.

But money can't buy this experience: Prospective guests will have visit the Airbnb listing by Feb. 26 and give the reason they should be selected to stay the night in the famed Saulire cable car.

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Pay Raises in Store for Millions


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Although the economy is finally showing signs of life after years in the doldrums, many workers say they're not seeing much difference, primarily because wages have remained relatively flat.

However, things might be changing for millions, according to a PNC Financial Services survey conducted last fall.

Mekael Teshome, PNC Financial Group economist, reports that close to four in 10 small and midsize businesses are prepared to boost paychecks over the first six months of 2015.

And barring an unexpected economic downturn, it looks like there's more good news on the horizon.

Teshome predicted that PNC's spring survey is likely to compel employers to be even more generous with raises as the year progresses.

Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported median weekly earnings during the fourth quarter were about 1.7 percent higher than the same period in 2013.

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Most Stayed Within Their Holiday Shopping Budgets


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Most Americans stuck to their budgets last holiday season.

Bankrate.com interviewed 1,000 adults about their holiday shopping habits and only about 16.5 percent said they spent more than they initially intended. Meanwhile, a quarter of the respondents came in under their allotted budget for gift-giving.

Bankrate.com says those who spent more than expected were generally from higher-income households. Conversely, Americans who spent less were mainly in the low-income bracket.

Meanwhile, consumers aged 18-to-29, better known as millennials, were twice as likely to spend more than budgeted as opposed to 30-to-49-year-olds.

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Super Bowl 49 Viewership and Spending Could Set Records


NFL Media(NEW YORK) — What will 184 million Americans be doing Sunday, Feb. 1?

If you're like most people, you'll be tuned in to Super Bowl 49, according to the National Retail Federation, which polled 6,375 consumers for its annual spending survey.

Watching the game between the Super Bowl 48 champs Seattle Seahawks and challenger New England Patriots isn't all what Americans will be doing. The NRF says that each viewer will spend an average of $77.88 on various football-related sundries, be it athletic wear, electronics, food or drink.

Whether it has to do with the economy or people on a pre-Super Bowl high, that's almost $10 more per viewer than last year.

All told, it means a boost of $14.3 billion to the economy.

As for what the most important part of the entire Super Bowl experience is for viewers, less than half -- 46.8 percent -- said the game itself while 41.3 percent claim it's the commercials and having friends and family over. The remainder -- 11.9 percent -- are most excited about the halftime show featuring Katy Perry.

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UPS Says No Pickup, Delivery Service Tuesday in Some Northeastern States


Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- UPS announced on Monday night that it would not pick up or deliver packages in six full states and parts of two others on Tuesday due to severe winter weather.

The company said it would "work to ensure the safety of our employees while minimizing effects on service." It noted that "contingency plans are in place to ensure that shipments arrive at their final destinations as quickly as possible as conditions permit."

The UPS service disruption will impact Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, as well as portions of New Jersey and New York.

Travel bans were put in place on Monday for roads in New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as numerous other counties in New York and other Northeastern states that prevent non-emergency personnel from driving.

UPS notes that its service guarantee doesn't apply when "transportation networks are disrupted due to events of this nature."

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Standard and Poor's Downgrades Russia Credit Rating to Junk


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Standard and Poor's has lowered the rating of the Russian ruble to BB /B amidst negative economic outlook.

The agency notes a "significant change in our perception of Russia's monetary flexibility over the 2015-2018 forecast horizon and the effect we expect Russia's weakening economy to have on its financial system." The downgraded credit rating comes as the ruble has been hurt by the continuing decrease in oil prices and the ongoing tension with Ukraine.

The ratings agency also said it views Russia's institutional and governance as a rating weakness. "Political power is highly centralized with few checks and balances," Standard and Poor's says, "we do not currently expect that the government will be able to effectively tackle the long-standing structural obstacles...to stronger economic growth."

As part of the rating, Standard and Poor's gave Russia poor marks on institutional and economic assessments and neutral marks for external assessment, fiscal performance and monetary assessment. The only strong grade Russia received in the latest rating was for its "modest" debt burden.

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Gas Prices Continue to Drop, Down Two Cents from Last Week


FeelPic/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Gas prices across the U.S. are down two cents from last week, the U.S. Energy Department says.

According to the latest figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average cost of a gallon of gas is just $2.04 this week. That figure is $1.25 lower than this date one year ago.

Gas remains most expensive on the West Coast, where the average gallon costs $2.32 -- much higher than the Gulf Coast region, where the average price is $1.85, cheaper than any other region of the country.

California held onto its title as the most expensive state in which to buy gas, according to the EIA. The average gallon in the Golden State is $2.44. Of the states measured by the EIA, Colorado, Minnesota, Ohio and Texas all have gas selling for under $2 per gallon on average.

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Facebook Releases New 'Lite' App That Uses Less Data


Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Facebook's data-hungry mobile app is now available in a slimmed-down size and is being targeted to Android users in emerging markets.

Taking up just 252 KB, the Facebook Lite app is designed to work efficiently on a 2G network and areas with limited service, providing users with a stripped-down Facebook experience.

Facebook told ABC News in a statement that the company is testing the app.

Users of the app, which is available for download in the Google Play store, can expect to see fast-loading news feed stories, photos and notifications from friends, making it ideal for people with limited data plans.

"Keeping up with friends is faster than ever. Facebook is free and always will be," a description of the app reads in the Google Play store.

Connecting the world has been a major goal for CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team behind the Internet.org initiative. The group has been rolling out free, limited mobile Internet access to people in developing countries, which includes the Facebook app.

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Wall Street Closes with Small Gains, CBO Says Budget Deficit to Decrease in 2015


JaysonPhotography/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street stayed mostly level on Monday, finishing the day slightly up, amidst reports detailing a shrinking budget deficit.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 6.1 to 17678.70.

The Nasdaq climbed 13.88 to 4771.76, while the S&P 500 closed the session at 2057.09, up 5.27 from its open.

The Congressional Budget Office said on Monday that the budget deficit is projected to decrease in 2015, to the lowest point since President Obama took office. Overall, the deficit is expected to hold steady relative to the size of the economy through 2018. Beyond 2018, however, the CBO warns that rising deficits could gradually boost the deficit again.

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