Google has fired off a flare gun signaling that it’s serious about turning its ultra-fast Internet networking project into a big business — and challenging incumbent cable and telecom operators across the country.

The company said it is working with 34 U.S. cities, in nine metro areas around the country to potentially build fiber-optic networks in those areas. Google Fiber, which offers 1-gigabit-per-second broadband and TV, kicked off in Kansas City with the service going live starting at the end of 2012. The company has since expanded to Provo, Utah, and Austin, Texas.

Google has invited the cities, which include its headquarters hometown of Mountain View, Calif., “to work with us to explore what it would take to bring them Google Fiber,” Milo Medin, VP of Google Access Services, wrote in a blog post announcing the expanded initiative.

The nine metro areas are: Portland, Ore.; San Jose, Calif.; Salt Lake City; Phoenix; San Antonio; Nashville, Tenn.; Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

SEE ALSO: Google Gets Fiber Fever

When the Internet giant announced its “Think Big with a Gig” content in 2010, Google characterized the effort as an “experiment.” That led to speculation that Google Fiber was a publicity stunt or part of a lobbying effort to spur higher-speed Internet access networks. But Google execs have insisted that the fiber-optic networks is being run as a business — one that has great potential.

Google is aiming to provide updates by the end of 2014 about which cities will be getting Google Fiber. “Between now and then, we’ll work closely with each city’s leaders on a joint planning process that will not only map out a Google Fiber network in detail, but also assess what unique local challenges we might face,” Medin said. “These are such big jobs that advance planning goes a long way toward helping us stick to schedules and minimize disruption for residents.”

The 34 cities under consideration will need to provide Google with maps of existing conduit, water, gas and electricity lines “so that we can plan where to place fiber,” Medin noted. The company will conduct detailed studies of local factors that could affect construction, like topography, housing density and the condition of local infrastructure.

Here’s the full list of cities, by metro area:

  • Atlanta: Avondale Estates, Brookhaven, College Park, Decatur, East Point, Hapeville, Sandy Springs, Smyrna
  • Nashville, Tenn.
  • Salt Lake City
  • San Antonio, Texas
  • Phoenix: Scottsdale, Tempe
  • Portland: Beaverton, Hillsboro, Gresham, Lake Oswego, Tigard
  • Charlotte, N.C.
  • Raleigh-Durham, N.C.: Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Garner, Morrisville, Raleigh
  • San Jose: Santa Clara, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto