Austin moved closer to its vision of becoming one of the country’s premiere technology hot spots Wednesday.
Google Inc. confirmed that its ultra-fast Google Fiber Internet service will debut in December in South and Southeast Austin. Sign-ups will begin in December for new users in South and Southeast Austin, said Mark Strama, head of Google Fiber’s Austin operations. That includes residents south of Lady Bird Lake to William Cannon between Interstate 35 and MoPac Boulevard. In Southeast Austin, residents between Oltorf and Texas 71, and east of Interstate 35 and south of William Cannon will get a first shot.
Google announced in April 2013 that Austin would be the second U.S. city — after Kansas City — to get its Google Fiber 1-gigabit service. Google had initially said the service would be available in Austin by mid-year 2014.
“We think a faster Internet is better for everyone and we think it’s great that the whole value proposition has gotten so good in Austin,” Strama, a former Texas state representative, said in a media briefing Wednesday at Google’s North Austin offices. “It’s a really great time to be in Austin right now.”
The Austin market Google Fiber will enter has changed since the Internet giant last year announced plans to bring its ultrafast 1-gigabit Internet to town. Since then, a rising tide of competitors have launched their own high-speed Internet and cable television services in Austin to challenge Google.
AT&T Inc., Time Warner Cable, Grande Communications and East Central Texas provider LiveAir Networks have all rushed to offer faster service in Austin. All but Time Warner Cable, which upped its service last week to up to 300 megabits per second, now offer 1-gigabit speeds.
At 1 gigabit, the service is more than 100 times faster than today’s typical broadband Internet access and lets a user download 25 songs in 1 second, a TV show in 3 seconds and a high-definition movie in less than 36 seconds.
December could also see a shakeup in prices as seen in Kansas City, the first city to get Google Fiber service. Google gave few details on its specific pricing plans Wednesday, but Strama said consumers could order standard service for a $300 fee that could be broken down into monthly payments of $25.
Strama said a certain number of residents, or a threshold, will need to be hit within each “Fiberhood” to offer the service. Each Fiberhood consists of pockets of homes that will make it easier for Google Fiber to provide service, Strama said.
A major part of Google Fiber’s Austin rollout includes hooking up about 100 community organizations with free Fiber connections. Those organizations include schools, public libraries and nonprofit groups such as the Austin Film Society.
One of the beneficiaries will be Reagan High School in East Austin.
“This will allow our students to be even more creative,” said principal Anabel Garza. “I can’t even begin to imagine all they’ll be able to create.”
The Austin Independent School District campus has about 1,000 students, with 88 percent of them considered economically disadvantaged, according to the Texas Education Agency’s 2013 report card.
Strama declined to say when Google Fiber will be available to Austin businesses, but said it has spurred innovation in Kansas City, where the service was first rolled out.
Entrepreneurs started moving into the first neighborhood where Google Fiber was available to test business models that they wouldn’t have been able to with slower Internet speeds, he said.
Faster Internet speeds are useful for a variety of reasons, including facilitating telecommuting and working remotely, said Jon Hockenyos, president of Austin-based economic consulting firm TXP.
“That has a number of positive implications, including better accommodating global time differences (conference calls in your pajamas, perhaps?) and helping to smooth out traffic patterns by allowing greater commuting flexibility,” Hockenyos wrote in an email.
Google Fiber hasn’t launched yet, but has already raised the bar for Internet speeds in Austin, said analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy. “Faster Internet means more tech jobs and more desire to live in Austin,” he said. “Many fail to realize that for many, Internet speed is a big draw.”
©2014 Austin American-Statesman, Texas