Google Fiber Clues: Installation Going on in South, East Austin

A review of city-issued permits shows Google is in the process of installing thousands of feet of cable conduit along 176 of Austin's streets.

by Claudia Grisales, McClatchy News Service / July 10, 2014
Gov. Rick Scott applauds Texas' progress in becoming the nation's hub for innovation, collaboration and technology development. April 9, 2013 Flickr/Governor Rick Perry

Google Inc. isn’t yet saying publicly which areas of Austin will first get its superfast 1-gigabit Google Fiber Internet service.

But an American-Statesman review of hundreds of city-issued permits shows that the search-engine giant is in the process of installing thousands of feet of cable conduit along 176 city streets – mostly in South Austin and East Austin.

It’s hard to say exactly what that means for when and where the Internet service gets going in Austin, as Google remains tight-lipped over its launch plans in Austin. Google has repeatedly declined to detail the progress of its installation work, and the company declined to talk specifically about its Google Fiber-related permits from the city.

A Google spokeswoman said that Google Fiber service will arrive in Austin somewhat later than initial estimates, saying it will be by the end of the year rather than midyear.

Google declined to comment on what other fiber installation work it is doing in the city, including attaching its fiber cable to utility poles owned by competitor AT&T in some parts of Austin. AT&T also declined this week to specify which of its utility poles are being used by Google for Fiber installation.

With those questions unanswered, the best clues to what is happening with Google Fiber’s installation are the city-issued work permits — which are public record — showing where the company is digging and installing fiber-optic cable along city streets and neighborhoods.

Those permits show that most of the verifiable Google Fiber installation work is going on south of Lady Bird Lake, east of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1), west of U.S. 183 and along and north of William Cannon Drive.

The permits’ addresses start at a western edge of Barton Hills Drive extending east to Montopolis Drive near U.S. 183.

Some Austin streets are pinpointed for more installation work than others, including a 3.3-mile stretch of South First Street south of Ben White Boulevard, a 3.2 -mile stretch of Burleson Road from East Oltorf Street to Smith School Road in Southeast Austin and a more than 1-mile stretch along Barton Hills Drive near Barton Hills Elementary.

While Google has steadfastly declined to comment on any specifics related to the permits, company spokeswoman Jenna Wandres said thousands of more work permits are to come.

“We’ve only announced that we’ll bring Fiber within the Austin city limits, and that is all we are focused on right now,” Wandres said in an email. But “it will take thousands of permits to even complete our work within the Austin city limits. So, yes, fair to say this is just the beginning.”

“It’s a big construction project, so it takes a whole lot of time to plan for,” Wandres said. “We’re working as quickly as we can to get Fiber to Austin residents soon, and we hope to have more information to share soon. It’s a lot of work, and we want to make sure we are doing it right.”

Google’s local work is being led by a “small group of people,” Wandres said, including former state Rep. Mark Strama. In June, the company hired a community impact manager to act as liaison to local neighborhoods, schools and libraries.

“It’s a small team of Googlers as we pick up operations,” Wandres said.

Austin City Council Member Laura Morrison, who played a key role in helping lure Google Fiber to the region, declined to comment specifically on Google’s ongoing plans.

“There have been sightings reported … and that is always fun to see,” Morrison said. “There’s a lot of effort underway. It’s a very large project touching a lot of the city.”

When Google announced last year that Austin would get Google Fiber service, local leaders hailed it as a breakthrough for the region. The 1-gigabit network is expected to reach into rich and poor neighborhoods, accelerate the development of new tech companies and help with new broadband services for schools and hospitals and other parts of the town.

Under Google’s plan, residents in neighborhoods that show the highest interest — Google calls them “Fiberhoods” — would be among the first to receive the superfast service. Last year, a list of 100 locations — including Austin City Hall, schools, libraries and cultural organizations — were selected to receive free ultra-high-speed Internet service as part of the project. Google has also said small Austin businesses would be part of the first wave of installations.

Austin hasn’t seen Google Fiber launched as quickly as residents in Provo, Utah, where the company agreed to buy an existing fiber-optic communications network from the city. As a result, Provo was able to jump in front of Austin last year to become the second U.S. metro area to get the service up and running. Kansas City was the first to get Google Fiber service.

In Austin, Google had to hash out an agreement with AT&T to access that company’s existing utility lines, triggering a months-long negotiation.

Austin could mirror much of what has been seen in Kansas City, where it took about a year and a half to launch service. Google first announced plans in early 2011 and launched its initial wave of service in late 2012 and continues to launch new service there.

In Kansas City, the basic price for 1-gigabit Internet access is $70 a month. Internet plus cable TV costs $120 a month. The company also offers a slower basic broadband package free for seven years after a $300 network construction fee is paid.

Kansas City, Provo and Austin remain the only official Google Fiber communities. The Internet giant is exploring the potential of expanding to 34 cities in nine metro areas, including San Antonio, Atlanta and San Jose, Calif.

©2014 Austin American-Statesman, Texas