Louisville, Ky., Expects Google Fiber to Boost Economic Development, Digital Inclusion

City leaders say they have seen an increase in businesses interested in relocating to Louisville in the weeks following the service's launch.

by / November 27, 2017
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With Google Fiber now available in Louisville, Ky., city leaders expect multiple ultra-fast Internet options to start fueling economic development and help ongoing efforts to foster digital equity in struggling and underserved neighborhoods.

Google Fiber, which took its first signups in Louisville in October, has given the city a second provider to go along with AT&T Fiber. It took a long time to get to this point — Google first announced tentative plans to develop a fiber network in the city in 2015 — but the benefits for the community have quickly become evident, said Grace Simrall, chief of civic innovation and technology with Louisville Metro Government.

Simrall pointed to Chattanooga, Tenn., as a model for what Louisville is now moving toward in terms of economic development driven by the availability of world-class Internet. Armed with a rapid and city-owned broadband network that consumers have ranked as the best in the country, Chattanooga has branded itself as “Gig City,” using its digital infrastructure to create an innovation district that has renewed its economy. Whereas Chattanooga’s economy was once dependent on outmoded manufacturing businesses, it is now alive with an innovation economy driven by tech entrepreneurs, largely thanks to having a fiber-optic network available to all homes and businesses in its 600-square-mile territory.

While Louisville is still working to spread fiber all throughout its community — Google reports being available in three neighborhoods, while AT&T reports being available to 50,000 users — Simrall said the city has already fielded inquiries from companies interested in relocating there. Plus, the availability makes Louisville a more desirable place to live for tech-savvy residents working within the new economy, who can live in Kentucky and work seamlessly for companies across the globe. It is also expected to improve current tech work in the city.

“It’s a boost to our exploration around the smart home,” Simrall said. “CNET has its smart home facility headquartered here in Louisville, Ky. In order to really be able to test these technologies for consumers, they need significant bandwidth. Ultra-high-speed Internet can provide that for them.”

To help bring Google Fiber to town, policymakers in Louisville did much work in advance, including passing a One Touch Make Ready rule that gives ISPs like Google faster access to utility poles it needs to create a fiber network. AT&T sued Nashville in U.S. District Court in 2016 to potentially slow Google Fiber deployment in that city. Louisville’s city leadership was vocal in supporting the ordinance for the dual purposes of making the city broadband ready and fostering competition among Internet service providers.

That competition speaks to the other major benefit of having multiple fiber providers now active in Louisville: digital equity. Digital equity, which means making sure that all citizens and neighborhoods have access to technology and the skills they need to use it, is an increasingly prevalent concern among city governments. This year marked the first National Digital Inclusion Week, during which Louisville launched its PNC Gigabit Experience Center. This facility is aimed at giving denizens of the traditionally impoverished Russell neighborhood access to high-speed Internet. Of the three neighborhoods Google Fiber has launched in, two are similar to Russell in terms of impoverishment.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer wrote a column in the city’s newspaper detailing the history of Google Fiber in the city and why this was all so positive for the community, focusing in part on how more competition would lead to faster speeds and lower rates. He described how it felt to be at a launch event for the service in the city’s Portland neighborhood.

“Our ultimate goal is to create equity in access to technology and the Internet for all Louisvillians — and that’s what I was envisioning on Wednesday at Neighborhood House in Portland,” the mayor wrote.

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.