Google Fiber

Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

With Austin set to become the second city in the country to adopt Google Fiber, the new Internet service announced its initial pricing plan and unveiled the location of its downtown office.

Mark Strama, head of Google Fiber in Austin and former state representative, also announced the costs for the three tiers of service. The basic tier offers a 5 MB download speed and 1 MB upload speed and will cost a $300 construction fee but will not require users to pay a monthly fee. The second tier offers 1 GB of upload and download speed, and costs $70 per month, which Strama said will be an asset for people who need access to an above average amount of content. The third tier includes the 1 GB speed and Google Fiber television service, which offers 150 high-definition channels and costs $130 per month.

Google Fiber’s new workspace, located at the former site of the Austin’s Children Museum at Second and Colorado streets, will open in December, when the Internet service will become available to citizens living in South and Southeast Austin. Google Fiber uses fiber-optic cables to deliver connection speeds that, according to Google, are 100 times faster than current standard broadband speeds.

Strama said the 23,000 square-foot space will not only be a place to experience the Internet and television services — but also a place to host the community.

“When Whole Foods opened that store on Sixth and Lamar, they called it their ‘love letter to the city of Austin,’ and I thought that we needed something to capture that spirit,” Strama said. “We anticipate having town hall meetings and political forums, as well as concerts and hack-a-thons and really cool technology-centric events.”

Google Fiber spokeswoman Kelly Mason said she believes the product will provide those in the technology industry, specifically application developers, the opportunity to create products that were formerly not sustainable on a typical broadband network.

“Google Fiber came about because we saw that Internet speeds in the U.S. were falling behind, and there was an artificial ceiling being put on innovation because of lower speeds in the web,” Mason said. “The future of the web is built on innovation, and these high speeds will support that.”

Google Fiber will not be available on and around UT’s campus when it launches in December, although Strama said there is a possibility that surrounding student housing areas will be eligible to get the service if enough people sign up.

“We’ve been in ongoing discussions with Google — as we would be with any other service — and are happy to continue that conversation,” UT spokesman Gary Susswein said.

Photo Credit: Ploy Buraparate | Daily Texan Staff

Google Fiber, a high-speed Internet provider, isn’t coming to campus, but both the University and the City of Austin are in discussions with Google to possibly make Austin’s Internet network connect faster to Google services.

“We asked Google to attach a very fast connection to [the Greater Austin Area Telecommunications Network, or GAATN,] which then will light up 450 places with higher speeds for Google [services],” said Brad Englert, the University’s chief information officer. “It’s actually better for all of us.”

GAATN currently connects 450 Austin locations, including the University, Austin Community College and the city. Google Fiber plans to provide high-speed Internet to 100 nonprofit and public sites in Austin outside GAATN beginning in 2014. If Google partners with the city, Google would increase the speed of GAATN’s connection to Google services.

If UT were to install Google Fiber, the University would have to modify its network infrastructure to support both a central University network and a Google Fiber network, Information Technology Services director Lyal Wedemeyer said.

“This produced complexity that invades every site Google Fiber serves,” Wedemeyer said.

The University’s current Internet network is part of GAATN. This network, founded in 1993, is made up of strands of fiber optic cables that connect large entities in Austin.

The University pays $90,000 annually for network membership, and the network’s total annual cost for repairs, modifications and expansions is $2 million, Wedemeyer said.

The partnership between GAATN and Google would be possible because the city owns the electric utility supplier, which is fairly uncommon for a city, Englert said.

Because Google Fiber targets the residential community, the University won’t be a customer, said William Green, UT networking and telecommunications director.

Google Fiber is marketed as a single gigabit port, but the University already has more than 70,000 single gigabit ports, Green said.

“One more wouldn’t make a difference,” Green said.

Wedemeyer said there is a list published by the city of probable locations for Google Fiber, but the network will not install the Internet provider in an area unless that area has a sufficient number of customers and accepts the costs of construction.

Englert said neighborhoods will have to express their interest in receiving Google Fiber, and West Campus and other areas with large student populations are likely to be
candidates.

The connection that Google would possibly form between GAATN and Google services is called peering, Englert said.

“If you’re a student on Google Fiber trying to access the University, it’ll be a much better experience due to the peering,” Englert said.

More than 100,000 students, faculty, staff and alumni use UTmail, which is provided by Google, Englert said. The possible partnership with Google would make access to Google services faster because it would create a more direct route.

“If I want to get to UTmail, it knows I’m local, so they’ll get me directly to Google,” Englert said. “It won’t send me off into the big Internet to some other city before it comes back.”

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Google Fiber will bring Austin residents and UT students access to some of the world’s fastest internet speeds in 2014, challenging Austinites to find ways to use the service at its full potential.

Google Fiber is a project that provides fiber-optic broadband internet and TV service to customers at a rate of up to 1 gigabit per second. This is 100 times faster than most connections today, according to the Google Fiber website.

City of Austin and Google officials announced to members of press and invited guests that Austin would be the second city to receive Google Fiber on Tuesday at Brazos Hall. Distinguished speakers at the event included Gov. Rick Perry, Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Laura Morrison.

Starting in mid-2014, the service will be provided in select communities called “fiberhoods” depending on the level of interest in those areas. Kevin Lo, general manager of Google Fiber, said pricing has not been determined for Austin yet, but residents can look to the current Kansas City price model for an idea of what to expect. Kansas City, Kan. was the first city to be chosen to receive the service, edging out Austin in the 2011 application process.

Kansas City residents can currently choose from three plans, which range from free internet with only an installation fee all the way to gigabit internet and TV for $120 per month. Google Fiber’s HDTV channel options will include the Longhorn Network.

William Green, director of Networking and Telecommunications for UT’s Information Technology Services, said the University will take full advantage of Google Fiber, though the details are currently unknown.

“The University plans to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to connect with the community at the highest speeds offered,” Green said. “Students, faculty and staff already have high-speed capabilities when they are on campus — the new use cases when they have those same capabilities through Google Fiber off campus will be interesting. “

Milo Medin, vice president of access service for Google, said residents living in high-density spaces such as apartment complexes will need permission from apartment owners to install the service.

“We have programs with multiple-dwelling unit owners,” Medin said. “Because of the way U.S. regulation works, we can’t just install in an apartment building without the apartment building owner’s permission. So we have a program where apartment building owners can sign up, have us come in and wire Fiber for all their units, and then be able to deliver services there.”

Tech bloggers, such as Farhad Manjoo from Slate Magazine, have questioned whether the utility of Google Fiber has truly been realized beyond the scope of faster uploads and downloads, calling the service “totally awesome, and totally unnecessary.”

“During my time in Kansas City, I spoke to several local businesspeople, aspiring startup founders and a few city boosters,” Manjoo wrote on March 12. “They were all thrilled that Google had come to town, and the few who’d gotten access to the Google pipe said they really loved it. But I couldn’t find a single person who’d found a way to use Google Fiber to anywhere near its potential — or even a half or quarter of what it can do.“

Morrison said the campaign “Big Gig Austin” has become an online collaboration of Austin residents coming up with innovative ideas for how the service can stretch the limits of technology, and was launched during Austin’s original application to receive Google Fiber.

“We envisioned medical patients consulting with physicians in real time, sharing data and video conferencing to enhance the quality of care to Austin residents,” Morrison said at the event. “We envisioned a place where working from home was more viable thanks to reliable video connections and virtual networks, freeing us from our daily commutes and reducing our carbon footprint.”

Morrison also highlighted ideas unique to Austin, such as hosting online film and live music festivals. 

Tracy King, vice president of public affairs for AT&T, said AT&T is encouraged by the ability for service providers to compete in bringing the best service to consumers. On Tuesday, the same day as the Google Fiber announcement, AT&T published a press release announcing its intent to create a 1-gigabit fiber network in Austin.  

“Competition is fantastic for the consumer,” King said. “Robust competition between us and Google is a great thing. The customer ultimately gets to decide who is going to serve them better. We look forward to competing with Google.”