Public forum addresses Austin’s bid for high-speed Google network

Public forum addresses Austin’s bid for high-speed Google network


Community experts at Wednesday night’s public forum sold Austin as the ideal city for Google’s planned ultra high-speed broadband network.

Cities across the country are fighting to catch Google’s eye after the company announced last month it will launch a fiber optic network to serve between 50,000 and 500,000 homes. The web company’s proposed one gigabit network will provide Internet service hundreds of times faster than current speeds. The city of Austin and other hopeful communities must present their proposals to Google by March 26.

“Google is looking to build and deploy a network really quickly and Austin is prepared to do that,” said Chip Rosenthal, Chairman of the Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission.

Austin has some factors working in its favor, including its existing infrastructure and low building costs, Rosenthal said. He expects Google to announce its chosen location within the year.

Typical broadband speeds in Austin are between two and 10 megabits, he said. Google’s one gigabit network will be equivalent to 1000 megabits.

The city’s bid to win the network is a two-pronged effort, Rosenthal said. First, city officials are gathering information to prepare a report for Google explaining why Austin is the best candidate. Second, the city encourages residents and businesses to make their voices heard by petitioning Google at www.biggigaustin.org.

“Realistically, it’s a long shot,” Rosenthal said. “There isn’t a city in the nation that doesn’t want in on the Google network.”

Both Topeka, Kan. and City Island off the Florida coast have temporarily renamed themselves Google, Kan. and Google Island, respectively, in an effort to grab the company’s attention.

Google officials have said they want to see strong community involvement, Rosenthal said, and so City of Austin officials are using Facebook and Twitter to engage the public. City workers will also conduct street surveys and pass out flyers during upcoming South by Southwest festival events to inform the community and urge participation.

“We’re trying to generate that community effort to show Google we’re the best place in the country for their network,” Rosenthal said.

The public forum at City Hall featured expert speakers from various community sectors. Dave Porter, Senior Vice President of Economic Development for Austin Chamber of Commerce, pointed to Austin’s history in the technology industry as an advantage for the city’s bid.

“We feel like Google knows Austin,” Porter said. “I think this would be a step in the right direction to developing a long-term relationship with Google.”

Austin’s population is young, highly educated and computer savvy, with a large blogger constituency and many residents interested in experimenting with new technology, Porter said.

“If they want to test out a tech center, Austin would be ideal,” Porter said.

Joe Faulk, manager of information system and business enterprise for Austin Public Library, described the city’s current library connectivity as “plain Jane.” High-speed broadband from Google could help Austin libraries realize their goal of real-time, large-scale communication, including remote access to library content from home or other library branches, Faulk said.

“We are about content,” Faulk said. “We need to improve the way we deliver that content and this is a perfect fit.”

Tamara Hudgens, executive director of Girlstart, a local non-profit organization aimed at encouraging girls in the fields of math, science and technology, stressed the overall community benefits of enhanced Internet connectivity.

“This project would lift up families and children who would not otherwise have access to these resources,” Hudgens said.

This access would increase both public engagement and local economic productivity, ultimately fostering innovation throughout the community, Hudgens said.

To learn more about the Big Gig Austin project or to nominate Austin as the site for Google’s network, visit www.biggigaustin.org.

Photo by Dave Wilson. View license.