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From Site Selection magazine, September 2015

The Slow Data Movement

Just kidding. There’s no slowing down Google Fiber — unless you count the queue of cities who want it, or the quicksand of government regulations.

Google Fiber’s network of Fiber cities this year has expanded to Salt Lake City, Utah, and San Antonio, Texas.
Photo courtesy of Google


On April Fool’s Day Eve earlier this year, Google Fiber pranked its followers.

“... As we’ve rolled out Google Fiber in Kansas City, Provo and Austin, we’ve learned that Fiber has been impacting our subscribers in ways that we didn’t expect,” wrote Maurice Clarke, Google Fiber Technologist. “Loading bars used to give people an opportunity to pause and take care of the little things —like making a cup of coffee, taking a bathroom break or playing with the dog. We’ve been told that Fiber’s seemingly instant connections have taken away that precious time.”

So, he blogged on, the Google team brainstormed with antiquated technology engineers the world over to slow things down for people.

“It wasn’t easy, but we got to the root of the problem. By incorporating dial-up technology, we were able to reduce Fiber speeds up to 376 times by withholding photons from the fiber strands. In doing so, the light-based fiber optic technology dims to a flicker of its previous capacity, giving our users those precious moments to load the dishwasher, hug the kids or walk the dog.”

The hoax came one week after Google Fiber announced for real that it was adding Salt Lake City to its growing network of cities.

“We’re looking forward to seeing Salt Lake residents use gigabit Internet to spark creative ideas, jumpstart businesses and collaborate in ways they couldn’t before,” blogged Devin Baer, that city’s new associate city manager for Google Fiber. “Salt Lake City will join the Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham metro areas in the design phase of building our fiber network. Over the coming months, we’ll work closely with these cities to map out just where to lay our fiber-optic cables.”

Google Fiber Transit, Salt Lake City
Photo courtesy of Google

A similar message had arrived in Atlanta in January, and later arrived in Texas in early August, when Mark Strama, head of Google Fiber in the state, announced it was coming to San Antonio — the largest Fiber city to date.

“From starting Bexar BiblioTech, the first all-digital public library in the U.S., to being named a leading city in cybersecurity, San Antonio has developed a thriving tech landscape,” Strama blogged. “Hundreds of startups have found their home in the Alamo City through collaborative workspaces and accelerators like Geekdom and Cafe Commerce. Moreover, San Antonio’s recent selection for President Obama’s Tech Hire and Connect Home initiatives will help create a pipeline of tech jobs and narrow the digital divide. With speeds up to 1,000Mbps, compared to the U.S. average of just 12Mbps (Akamai, Q1 2015), Google Fiber will further fuel the city’s growth.”

A September 2014 report from Fiber-to-the-Home Council Americas (FTTH Council) looked at 55 communities in nine states and found a positive impact on economic activity in the 14 communities where gigabit Internet services are widely available. The gigabit communities exhibited a per-capita GDP approximately 1.1 percent higher than the others. That came to approximately $1.4 billion in those 14 communities combined, and could mean $3.3 billion to the other 41, once gigabit comes to their neighborhoods — neighborhoods where, FTTH research shows, gigabit’s arrival means a 3.1-percent rise in home values.

Superfast Q&A

So Google Fiber is about more than family members separately surfing into oblivion in the living room. But there are also challenges and planning issues. Just before the San Antonio announcement, Site Selection asked Google Fiber four questions. A spokesperson was kind enough to answer … fast.

Site Selection: Describe one or two examples of how Google Fiber has positively influenced companies (large or small) in terms of operations, growth, efficiency and cost.

Google Fiber: We’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm for our small business product in Kansas City, Austin and Provo. With access to Google Fiber, small businesses can focus on the things that matter. We’re seeing firsthand how Fiber is helping our first small business customers. Inland Sea Production, a documentary film studio, no longer has to FedEx hard drives to clients and outsource production because of the slow connection. Propaganda 3, a software and mobile app development shop, couldn’t reliably access large files in the cloud. Fiber is helping them share files quickly.

SS: Getting wired as a region requires investment in installation and construction. Where have you found that process the smoothest and quickest to market?

GF: Over the last year, we’ve learned a lot about each city and how we can work together to bring Google Fiber to the community as quickly and efficiently as possible. We’re finding ways to smooth out the installation process and minimize disruption as we build out our network in each metro area. Our crews work quickly, and when they’re done, they return the construction area to the condition they found it in, whether that means patching any holes we had to dig, repaving streets, or even planting new grass seeds when needed. We’re working hard to keep disruption to a minimum, but if issues arise, we’re ready to respond quickly. Residents can get in touch with us via our 24/7 hotline.

SS: How is Google Fiber approaching the possibility of international growth?

GF: Right now we’re focused on our current Google Fiber cities, and exploring the possibility of expanding to four more metro areas in the US — San Antonio, San Jose, Phoenix and Portland. We love that people are excited about Fiber, but we have to start somewhere. We have a lot of work to do before we can talk about expanding to more places.

SS: Describe metro areas that see as models in terms of maximizing the innovation economy potential of broadband infrastructure.

GF: Our Fiber cities are typically known for having tech-savvy, entrepreneurial residents who are excited about using new technology like gigabit connections. These same residents have the skills to use a gig to develop applications for the next generation of the Internet. Additionally, our Fiber cities have city leaders with a vision for how gigabit connectivity can make their community stronger, and who have worked really closely with us to develop a clear plan for how to build Fiber throughout the area
in a way that’s efficient and the least disruptive.

Let the Projects Be Your Guide

The coming of gigabit has very real spinoff, not least from organizations such as Fitch, which raised Kansas City’s debt rating due in part to Google Fiber’s economic development potential. The projects flow from there, Google or not.

Claris Networks moved its data center operations from Knoxville to Chattanooga to take advantage of its fiber network. Lafayette’s network attracted Hollywood special effects company Pixel Magic to the community, because the high-performance gigabit network lets Pixel Magic move computer files back and forth between Lafayette and California quickly.

New reports from Politico, following findings from the Government Accountability Office in 2014, have revealed that not all broadband installation is proceeding smoothly, if at all.

A ballyhooed announcement from the Rural Utilities Service in 2011 promised that $3.5 billion in broadband funds (mostly loans) would bring it to 7 million rural Americans. But half of the 300 projects haven’t drawn their full funding, and 42 have been cancelled outright, involving $300 million in loans and grants, and 430,000 of those 7 million people. However, some of those projects indeed have moved forward.

In Carbondale, Ill., Frontier Communications partnered with the city in 2013 to obtain a $31-million grant to enhance fiber for the Southern Illinois region, and now a gigabit connection runs east-west through town.

“Our Fiber cities have city leaders with a vision for how gigabit connectivity can make their community stronger.”

Gary Williams, Carbondale’s assistant city manager for economic development, says the team — including Connect SI, a 20-county regional economic empowerment foundation built around broadband and healthcare — has engaged the services of David Sandel, the St. Louis-based consultant who helped devise the playbook for Kansas City, Google Fiber’s first chosen location, announced in 2011.

Such infrastructure is helping companies such as Liaison, a metro Atlanta-based firm whose leadership team includes 1986 SIU-Carbondale graduate Larry Mieldezis, the company’s chief revenue officer. “Five years ago, Larry contacted me,” says Kyle Harfst, executive director of SIU Research Park and the SIU’s executive director of economic development. “He wanted to bring outsourced India jobs back to the United States.”

A soft landing incubator overseen by Harfst and his team welcomed a single Liaison employee, which quickly multiplied to 20, and now has grown to 60 at another site in town. “They could hire 200, if we had them,” says Harfst, noting the region’s manpower challenges.

Carbondale is one of 50 quarterfinalists in the America’s Best Communities competition, a contest among small towns and cities sponsored by Frontier and others who, like Google, look to reward communities with vision. Connect SI recently partnered with AT&T to announce their “Smart Broadband for Small Business Awards” to recognize 12 Southern Illinois small businesses that utilize wired or wireless broadband as a key component of their success.

More Than Barbecue Is Cooking in K.C.

Michael Slinger, director of Google Fiber City Teams, testified in July 2015 before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology that there’s more positive than negative in the offing, and it comes from cementing local ties as the sometimes messy, block-by-block work of physical installation moves forward.

“Consider the exciting economic developments we’ve seen in Kansas City, our first Fiber city,” he said. “We have seen entrepreneurs and companies from across America pick up their roots and move there, citing Google Fiber as one of the reasons. For instance, Nick Budidharma, an 18-year-old game developer, drove with his parents from Hilton Head, S.C., to live in a ‘hacker home’ that’s connected to the Google Fiber broadband network. Synthia Payne relocated from Denver to launch a startup that aims to let musicians play together in realtime online.

“The influx of all of these entrepreneurs led to the emergence of the Kansas City Startup Village, a grassroots startup hub in our very first Google Fiber neighborhood,” Slinger said. “In its first few years, it has attracted 25 startups from as far away as Boston, New York, Florida and California.”

Such progress builds on itself, attracting venture capital and larger firms, said Slinger.

“A well known tech investor, Brad Feld, even opened the ‘Feld KC Fiberhouse,’ where up to five startup founders can live and work rent-free for one year,” he said. “BIME Analytics, a French cloud computing firm, moved to Kansas City because ‘Google Fiber helped to validate Kansas City as a technology town.’ ”

Google Fiber City Map

What holds back such promising work are unnecessary regulations.

“Unfortunately, many consumers don’t have much choice in broadband providers, and gigabit Internet is still a dream for most,” he said. “Marketbased solutions are critical to closing the gap, yet regulation on the federal, state, and local levels has not kept pace with technological innovation and competition. Some regulations, such as those addressing access to infrastructure, sometimes even compound barriers to broadband deployment.”

Some of those regulations — such as video programming access rules — are up to the feds. And some — such as access to utility poles and conduits, and to public rights of way — are within local control.

“Policymakers’ top broadband goal should be achieving broadband abundance — which requires reducing the cost of network buildout and removing barriers that limit providers’ ability to reach consumers,” Slinger said. “The key is to focus on competition, investment and adoption.”

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