The Google Perspective: Gigabit Internet in Local Governments

As Google pursues gigabit fiber deployments, the Internet giant looks for emerging tech hubs with public demand for high-speed connections and local leaders with vision.

by / May 28, 2013

April was big for high-speed Internet news.

First Austin, Texas, announced it would join Kansas City to become the next local government to receive the Google Fiber treatment. Then Provo, Utah, joined the list, as Google plans to overhaul the city’s existing network. The Internet giant also is spreading its fiber buildout from Kansas City to the adjacent regions.

Many have questioned whether Google may eventually spread its networks across the entire nation, offering gigabit access for all. Though it seems feasible given the interest Google has shown in fiber, there are many reasons we won't ever see massive deployment, the most notable reasons being costs and regulations. 

The Internet today is like an ’88 Michael Jordan: Everyone knew there was something great there, but they didn’t know he was going to win six championships and completely transform the game. Despite the difficulty in creating a nationwide gigabit network, such a thing has the potential to unlock applications and capability not yet dreamed of. Google Senior Communications Associate Jenna Wandres recently said that high-speed Internet really is the future and that governments have and will continue to play an important role in that development.

“If you look at innovation of Web services right now, we’re kind of hitting the ceiling imposed by today’s Web speeds,” she said. “Here at Google and [at] many other companies we’ve talked to, large and small, engineers have these great ideas for products that they want to deploy to customers, but Web speeds are just draining their ability to do that. We really believe that this is an investment in the future of the Web.”

Ubiquitous Internet Is a Right

Whether it’s for entertainment, education or health care, there are a host of concepts that are not possible because of limited Internet speeds and availability.

Having Internet connectivity doesn’t just change how a person conducts research or interacts with others, it transforms culture on a large scale. In regions where Internet availability is scarce, junior-high and high-school students bring their laptops to McDonalds to take advantage of the free Internet access -- but they shouldn’t have to, Wandres said.

“Can you imagine if a teacher could send home with every single one of her students an assignment to do research on the Internet and know that they all had access at home?” she said, adding that Internet access is something we should be able to take for granted – it’s fundamentally important.

And last year, the United Nations Human Rights council affirmed the importance of Internet access in a resolution, deeming it a basic human right.

“When you make an investment in ubiquitous high-speed broadband throughout a community," Wandres said, "it makes the community stronger, too."

More Internet is a good deal all-around, which is why Google seems to think building out gigabit fiber is a no-brainer from both business and cultural perspectives. Gigabit ubiquity could open the door to changes in health care that could allow doctors to meet remotely with patients or share information digitally.

For education, health care, entertainment and economic growth, Internet can strengthen communities, Wandres said. “Something like 97 percent of Internet users look online for local goods and services,” she said, “So, if you’re a small business and you’re not online, you’re missing out on a huge percentage of business. That’s a huge economic impact.”

What Google Wants

The two new Google Fiber cities, Austin and Provo, are locales that lost out during the first Google Fiber competition -- but wouldn't take no for an answer. Each of the two cities had champions who continued pestering Google after the Kansas City announcement, just to show how much they, too, wanted Fiber. The tenacity and vision of Austin Council Member Laura Morrison and Provo Mayor John Curtis was representative of the spirit needed to make Google Fiber work, Wandres said, and eventually, each city got what it wanted.

Google works closely with local governments to make sure the buildouts go smoothly, she said, and their participation and passion is indispensable. In Kansas City, there was a great demand from the population for gigabit Internet, which is the biggest reason Google chose the location as its first, Wandres said -- but it was city leaders who solidified the deal.

Former Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Joe Reardon and Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sly James joined forces to create a bi-state innovation team after Kansas City had been chosen.

“They wanted to become a shining fiber city so that everybody else who had the broadband dreams and aspirations could look at Kansas City and see some use cases for what fiber could really do for a community,” Wandres said. “They published a report, and now they have a whole team working to implement some of those ideas. I think that’s a really great example of how city leadership can have a huge impact on deployment. … If a city leader develops a clear plan so that the community at large gets excited about Fiber and invested in Fiber, in general it’s going to be a much better outcome.”

Google hopes to begin serving its first Austin fiber customers by mid-2014 and its first Provo customers by the end of this year, Wandres said.

Provo, Austin and Kansas City are all locations with public demand for gigabit Internet, but they also have leaders with vision, Wandres said, and that’s what Google was looking for.

“If you look across those three markets, you’ll find that the main common denominator is that they’re all emerging tech hubs,” she said. “They all have really strong startup scenes, they have a plethora of entrepreneurs, people who have great ideas and have tech skills, at least the excitement to carry out those ideas and really develop this next generation of gigabit applications that we believe the future of the web will be founded on.”

Main image courtesy of Shutterstock

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.