Mark Strama

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: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

Students in West Campus now have the option for a gigabit Internet service that, while present in parts of Austin, has not been available in the area for residents to purchase.

Grande Communications is the first service provider to bring gigabit Internet to West Campus, beating other providers to the area. Grande said the new service provides Internet that is 10 times faster than its current Internet plan. Grande’s gigabit service has been offered since February in other parts of Austin and costs $64.99 a month.

“It’s available now,” said Matt Rohre, senior vice president of operations and general manager for Grande. “Everyone else is talking about theirs, and ours is there. People are using it.” 

Grande expanded its service to West Campus to reach University students, Rohre said.

“We know students, as much as or more than anyone else, truly value a great Internet experience,” Rohre said “It was adjacent to our existing territory and kind of a logical progression for us to go [to West Campus] and make the service available in that area.”

Google Fiber announced its Austin pricing plan Monday. The company’s services will start in Austin in December but, at this time, will not be offered in West Campus. Mark Strama, head of Google Fiber Austin, said Monday that the service could become available to students living in the area in the future.

Emma Duffy, accounting and finance junior, said the high-speed Internet would be helpful since the Internet in her West Campus co-op is inconsistent. She said she would be willing to pay for the service.

“Students use a lot of streaming services and faster speeds are good for that,” Duffy said. “My connection is a bit annoying at
the moment.”

Despite Grande’s service being available now, Corey Monreal-Jackson, human development and family sciences junior and West Campus resident, said he does not plan to purchase the service from Grande. He said he would only pay for the gigabit services if Google offered them, even if services are comparable.

“Google’s a buzzword,” Monreal-Jackson said. “You hear Google and you already are for it because, whether or not they truly are the best, they are going to be known as the best regardless of the services they offer.”

Karen Munoz, undeclared freshman and West Campus resident, said, while services like the gigabit Internet are nice, they are too expensive and are unnecessary for students.

“I think that’s too much for Internet,” Munoz said. “Right now I don’t pay anything where I live, and my Internet seems fine. I don’t think it’s slow or anything, so I wouldn’t buy it.”

For more information about Google Fiber's pricing plans, check out our full story here

Mark Strama, city manager for Google, explains the much-anticipated “fiber- hood,” which will start to be installed in December. Google Fiber’s goal is to produce an extraordinarily fast Internet that can reach as many people as possible.

Photo Credit: Madison Richards | Daily Texan Staff

Residents in South and Southeast Austin will be able to sign up for Google Fiber in December after waiting almost two years since the service was first announced.

Google held a briefing Wednesday at its Austin office about the Internet service the company will offer to its customers.

“Think about how many things you don’t want to click due to speed,” said Mark Strama, city manager for Google Fiber. “Speed is really important to us as a company, and we want to bring that to Austin.”

In November 2012, Kansas City became the only city to have the network. Google announced in April 2013 that Austin would be the next city to get Google Fiber.

David Anthony, technical program manager for Google Fiber, said the project goal is to install thousands of miles of fiber optic cable that will run right to people’s homes. The cables are made of hair-thin fibers of glass that transmit information close to the speed of light.

“This is the next step of the Internet,” Anthony said.

According to Anthony, the network delivers Internet speed at one gigabit per second, which is a hundred times faster than the current broadband speeds in the U.S. At this speed, a digital movie can be downloaded in less than two minutes, and high definition video can be streamed with little to no buffering.

“There will be no more waiting for the gray bar to fill up on the screen,” Strama said. “No more friction.”

Parisa Fatehi-Weeks, community impact manager for Fiber, said it is too soon to determine when student neighborhoods, such as West Campus and Hyde Park, will be able to sign up for Fiber. Strama said that a “fiberhood” has to have a certain number of people to sign up in order to receive the service for their respective neighborhood.

Fatehi-Weeks also talked about the Community Leaders program that aims to build greater digital literacy for underprivileged communities in Austin.

Fatehi-Weeks said that the program involves students helping people in the areas of Austin that have lower levels of Internet access. She said that students teach skills, such as how to setup an email or how to use a computer.

According to Fathehi-Weeks, 30 UT students take part in the program, as well as 20 others from both Huston-Tillotson University and St. Edward’s University. All 50 of the students work with employees called “Google Mentors” and will act as ambassadors for Fiber in underprivileged communities.

“Not every part of Austin will get Fiber,” Strama said. “But every area will get an opportunity to get it.”

Democrat Celia Israel defeated Republican Mike VanDeWalle in the House District 50 runoff election on Tuesday.

Israel, who amassed 59 percent of the vote, will succeed Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who retired in June to head Google Fiber in Austin. Four candidates ran in a special election held on Nov. 5 to replace Strama. With no candidate achieving a majority, VanDeWalle and Israel advanced to the runoff with 39 and 32 percent of the vote, respectively.

Both candidates are UT graduates.

House District 50 covers parts of North Austin, Pflugerville and east Travis County.

Students line up on Guadalupe to vote in the 2008 presidential election. A proposed Texas voter ID law that would have required voters to present a government-issued form of identification in this years election was denied by a U.S. District Court yesterday. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Debbie Finley | Daily Texan Staff

Tomorrow is Election Day. Will you be voting?

If you choose not to, you’ll likely have company; off-year elections are notorious for low voter turnout. According to FairVote.org, turnout for the last mayoral election in Austin was only 7 percent, and tomorrow will probably be even worse since there isn’t much on the ballot: just a special election to fill Mark Strama’s vacated Texas House seat — he is leaving to lead Austin’s Google Fiber project — along with nine proposed state constitutional amendments and an affordable housing bond for the city. Even though the housing bond could have implications for those of us struggling to find an affordable place to live in Austin, the total absence of any major state or federal race on the ballot makes this election nearly irrelevant to the average UT student. 

Nevertheless, rest assured that you’ll probably be hearing the old it’s-your-duty-to-vote lecture from that one civically-engaged government major that you know. Whether you see it on your Facebook news feed or overhear it in class, you’re bound to hear at least one person tell you that you really need to stop being so apathetic and go vote.

Usually, I am that civically-engaged government major nagging my friends to vote, and I probably will be at the polls tomorrow, despite the low profile of the 11 issues on the ballot. However, this off-year election dilemma got me thinking about a broader question: What would happen if we were all required to vote? After all, it’s not out of the question that Congress could pass a law that made voting mandatory; Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Peru all have compulsory voting laws. And if it truly were our civic duty and responsibility to vote, wouldn’t it make sense to require it by law?

I sat down with Brian Roberts, a professor of government, geography and economics, to talk about compulsory voting, and he began with an analogy: Right now, there is no law against burning the American flag. As a result, your decision to not burn the flag could be seen as a sign of national pride or patriotism. But “if there were a law that forbade me from burning the American flag, and I don’t burn the flag,” Roberts explained, “you don’t know if it’s because I’m afraid of going to jail, or because I have some pride in my country. I would much rather be in a situation where my act of not burning the flag actually means something.”

Voting works the same way. Since it isn’t currently required, voting, as Roberts put it, is “a very clear statement of civic pride and faith in the system.” Would we want a situation where voting loses its patriotic and political significance, in which people only vote because they are scared of going to jail?

Voting is a powerful signal that can show how invested an individual is in the government. But the implications of that signal can go far beyond one individual’s faith in government. Voter turnout statistics can be a powerful tool to evaluate an entire nation’s relationship with its government, and we often do judge “the health of a democracy by its level of participation” in elections, as Roberts explained.

For example, in the 1976 Supreme Court case “Buckley v. Valeo,” the court suggested that the level of participation in elections could be used to measure public trust in government. The case was a challenge to laws governing campaign finance — who could give money to federal candidates and how much they could give — and one of the dominant themes of the per curiam opinion was that the government had a compelling interest in preventing the appearance of corruption in politics. The reason it was important to curtail the appearance of such impropriety, according to the opinion, was to make sure that “confidence in the system of … Government is not to be eroded to a disastrous extent.” And how would we measure confidence in the system? Through participation in elections or voter turnout.

But compulsory voting turns an essential tool into a worthless statistic. According to Roberts, it’s a “call to arms” when voting levels are low; it indicates that something is wrong. But requiring voting does not solve the underlying problem that is causing low turnout. By passing a compulsory voting law, Roberts contended that you simply “wash your hands of [the problem]. And then you take away the signal. How now will you judge the health of our democracy if you’ve got no real way to figure out whether people buy into the system or not? Why would we expect any efforts to reform or change?”

In other words, low voter turnout can help to illuminate problems in our democratic system; compulsory voting would make it difficult to recognize and respond to those same problems that we are trying to solve.

Granted, no one is currently suggesting that we should make it a crime not to vote. But when we criticize each other for not participating in the democratic process, we should think about the logical conclusion of that argument, that participation in elections should be mandatory. It is definitely our right to vote — it’s a right that we should be proud and thankful to have. But compulsory voting is not the solution to our democracy’s problems.

By all means, go out and vote tomorrow. However, if someone tells you they aren’t voting, let them not vote. It might just be in our best interest if we ever want to solve our government’s many problems.

Nikolaides is a government and Spanish senior from Cincinnati.

Representatives of the state legislature discuss the future of Texas at the LBJ Library Wednesday evening. The parties discussed the issues facing the legislature in the 83rd session and answered questions from the audience and a reception followed.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

The issue of public education policy dominated the conversation Wednesday evening at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library where a panel of four members of the Texas Legislature addressed prominent issues facing Texas.  

Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, was the first to spark the debate of public education when the moderator, Brian Sweany, senior executive editor at Texas Monthly, inquired about how she felt in her first session as a representative.

“I think what surprised me is that we haven’t addressed public school finance,” Gonzalez said. “We have asked the governor to make it an emergency item.”

Both Gonzalez and Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, addressed their concern about the dramatic cuts from public education during the previous session. 

“I agree there needs to be a complete overhaul on education,” Gonzalez said. “We need to bring technology into the classroom and a curriculum that engages students.”

While Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, admitted that he was for restoring some of the cuts, he also said that money and government is not the answer, placing emphasis on a comprehensive reform.

“What I’m saying is we need to focus more on alternatives rather than solely looking into money.”

After Gonzalez visited high schools in the El Paso district and informed them of the $5.4 billion cut, she said she could see the look of awe in their faces.

“Why would they want to engage in a system that they feel has let them down?” Gonzalez asked. 

Audience members were also part of the discussion. Joanne Richards, former assistant dean of the College of Pharmacy, said students have different interests, motivations and excitements.

“So the question becomes how do you provide excitement and curiosity and teach them things they don’t want to learn?” Richards said.

Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, also sat on the panel. Texas Monthly and the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs hosted the event. 

All four representatives said there was a change in tone from last Legislation when Sweany asked about partisanship. Strama and Villalba said legislators started a new tradition of wearing purple on Thursdays, as a symbol of harmony.

“My good friend Ron Simmons came up with the idea,” Villalba said. “There was a desire to come together and we all want to make this state stronger and better.”

Texas Sen. Mark Strama, D-Austin, and his wife, former FOX 7 news reporter Crystal Cotti, gave insight into the lives of both politicians and journalists at the start of the Communication Council’s spring lecture series Wednesday night at the Belo Center for New Media.

Cotti said upon her initial arrival to UT she knew she wanted to be a news reporter and immediately got involved with KVR.

“I started out as an intern on-air and stayed as an intern off-air”, Cotti said. “My strategy was, basically, I would stick around until they had to start paying me. And it kind of worked out that way. I stayed around as a regular intern even after it was over and then in the spring of my junior year, I took the place of the morning reporter for a three-month period of time. I finally got paid for three months and left on pretty good terms.”

Cotti said she landed her first TV job straight out of college with FOX 7 in Austin. This was roughly the time she met Mark for his first campaign in 2004.

“That’s sort of what it takes to be a successful reporter,” Cotti said. “Sort of having that sense of what’s going to happen before it happens. You anticipate it and know what questions to ask so you can have this story come out with meaningful content.”

Strama said one of the reasons they hired her as a reporter at FOX straight of college is because she was very aggressive. In the reporter world you’re always competing with other reporters for the scoop.

Strama said he originally wanted to work in the music business, but he eventually volunteered for former Texas Gov. Ann Richards’ campaign and was hired. After Richards won, Strama met state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who was impressed by his experience and hired him as his legislative director.

“He didn’t realize the only reason I was working for her is because we were using my grandmother’s town car to take people around,” Strama said. “He made me his legislative director which was an incredibly bad decision on his part but an incredible opportunity for me.”

Strama said he became interested in Texas politics again in 2003 because at that time the Texas Legislature was a total disaster.

“All the time they were making budget cuts, they were more focused on their political gain,” Strama said. “I got really frustrated with it and I moved back to Austin. That’s where I won my first political campaign. I was running against an incumbent in a republican district.”

Strama also announced yesterday that this will be his last term in the Texas Legislature.

“The biggest reason this will be my last term in the Legislature is in 2010 the Republican title wave that year took us from a House of Representatives that had a 76 to 74 republican majority to one that had a 101 to to 49 majority,” Strama said. “My ability to influence outcomes in the Legislature dropped dramatically.”

Strama said he announced his leave to make it easier for the four politicians running for his seat.

“Normally in politics you don’t announce that you’re a lame duck, you kind of marginalize yourself,” Strama said. “To make things easier for them I announced myself as a lame duck. I think the decision feels kind of liberating.”

Cotti said that it is possible that Strama will run for mayor of Austin but the decision will not be made until this summer. Strama says while he has a long list of reasons why he should run for mayor, he wants to have something to bring to the office if he wins.

After a summer of well-publicized deaths of several gay teenagers across the nation, two Texas lawmakers have introduced legislation to crack down on bullying in Texas’ public schools.

The two bills — one introduced by State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Ft. Worth, and the other introduced by Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin — would require school districts to toughen their anti-bullying policies. It would also provide training for school district staff so they can better deal with bullying and mandate that districts report the number and types of bullying incidents to the Texas Education Agency.

The reporting requirement would mandate school districts to determine if the bullying was a result of a student’s race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

“All Texas children and their parents expect schools to be safe and nurturing environments where the opportunity to learn can be realized,” Davis said. “We hope this proposed legislation will make children feel safer and give their parents peace of mind that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated in Texas schools.”

Strama said the bills were key to updating the state’s anti-bullying laws to deal with the new phenomenon of using the Internet to bully.
“The Texas Legislature has an opportunity to address bullying and cyber-bullying during the next legislative session,” he said.

Equality Texas, one of the largest gay rights groups in the state, has endorsed the bills.

“It includes a present day definition of bullying and creates for the first time, a definition for cyber-bullying — it’s comprehensive in nature,” said Chuck Smith, Equality Texas’ deputy director. “It’s written using education language. It’s something that people who work in schools will not have any difficulty understanding.”

Smith said it was the first time an anti-bullying measure such as the ones introduced by Strama and Davis have been introduced in both the Texas House and Senate.

He also said that they would be lobbying for the measure as a general welfare measure, not as a bill that would expand rights or protections specifically for gay youth.

“It’s not a gay bullying bill,” Smith said. “This is legislation that seeks to deal with bullying for all children and at the end of the day no legislator wants to see a child bullied.”

Smith said this would be the issue that Equality Texas would focus most of their lobbying on because the expanded Republican majority has all but killed hopes for passing a bill that would allow for state employees to receive domestic partner benefits.
 

The Texas Legislature has failed to address climate change issues because, among other reasons, the state’s economy is based on fossil fuels, a UT geology professor said Wednesday.

Jay Banner spoke in the McCombs School of Business about his role in a bill addressing climate change that never made it out of a Texas Senate committee in 2009. The bill would have required 14 state agencies, including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Department of Transportation, to file a report every two years addressing the effects of climate change on their operations.

Banner said the Texas Water Development Board, which ensures the state has enough water during droughts, would have been required to prepare for more severe droughts than they currently consider plausible. He said according to computer model projections, which he presented to the Legislature, Texas will shift to a more arid climate that could include longer periods of drought in the near future.

By failing to pass legislation addressing the issue, Banner said the Legislature effectively ignored the projections he presented to them.

During his talk, Banner presented data showing increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere coinciding with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

“One thing no one disagrees with are the accuracy and validity of this data,” Banner said. “There are things where there is a consensus and complete scientific certainty.”

UT law professor David Adelman said the disagreements between lawmakers on climate change are “pretty fundamental.” He said many Texas lawmakers are skeptical about the science of global warming and the effects it will have on the climate.

State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said the legislature as a whole is more interested in capitalizing on economic opportunities than in addressing climate change.

“We are a very carbon-dependent economy not because we are evil but because we produce a lot of the nation’s energy,”
Strama said.

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics, Texas is responsible for 16.4 percent of the nation’s energy production, which is more than any other state. Texas also leads the nation in wind energy capacity.

Strama said people who see addressing climate change issues as a threat to traditional sources of income present a threat to climate change legislation in Texas.

“We want to keep our status as the nation’s leader [in energy production],” Strama said. “The question is, ‘How do we lead the evolution to a low-carbon future?’”