Nashville on list for Google Fiber expansion

Google is looking to Nashville for expansion of its Google Fiber network, which offers an Internet connection that is 100 times faster than traditional broadband service.

It's a move that city officials expect to raise the city's technology profile, while also boosting economic activity through increased Internet connectivity.

For Nashville residents, having service with a data transfer speed of 1 gigabit per second could mean less time watching buffer wheels and better video streaming, video conferencing and gaming capabilities, as well as access to Google Fiber's TV service. It could also mean more software developers or entrepreneurs looking to Nashville as a place where they can better build an app or run a company, according to local tech leaders.

"We think Nashville can do some amazing things with a gig," said Kevin Lo, general manager of Google Fiber."There is a strong health care industry here and obviously the music tech scene is outstanding, from Made In Network to Music Pub Works to NoiseTrade. There is just a lot of stuff going on, and we are really excited what people will do with it."

The Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant is exploring expansion in nine U.S. metropolitan areas, including Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, Atlanta, San Antonio, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Portland and the San Jose and South Bay area, and expects to announce which cities move forward with fiber plans later this year.

So far, Google Fiber is offered in Kansas City and Provo, Utah, and construction has begun in Austin, Texas. The service is focused on residential units and Google said it plans to offer small business products in the future.

"It's a market changer for us," said Mark Montgomery, founder of Nashville-based FLO {thinkery}, who has worked with Google on Nashville music and enterpreneur events. "That will lift our national and international presence as a technology center."

Provo city leaders have estimated the direct value of Google Fiber to be upwards of $50 million. The high-speed connection helped Kansas City, Mo., attract video-communications company SightDeck to its city, and French cloud business intelligence company BIME Analytics also credits Google Fiber as factoring into its decision to establish Kansas City as its U.S. headquarters.

"High-speed gigabit connectivity really lays the foundation for economic development," Lo said, declining to disclose the cost of Google Fiber installation. "We've seen that it creates more opportunies for job creation, for small businesses to be successful, for residents to do more online - everything from education, entertainment, telemedicine and all the other uses that are coming down the pipe."

With businesses and households relying increasingly on services such as Skype, Netflix, real-time gaming and video conferencing, the need for faster connectivity will only increase, said Corey Johns, executive director of Connected Tennessee, a public-private entity focused on increasing available technology in the state.

"We are moving more and more data on an annual basis and data usage is growing exponentially," Johns said. "With that comes more and more robust applications and uses... Speed is a question of growing importance."

Seeing a growing demand for high-speed Internet, Google began exploring bringing fiber to homes in 2009 and launched its "Think Big with a Gig" challenge in 2010, choosing Kansas City, Kans., to be its first Google Fiber city. Other cities, including Chattanooga, have built fiber-optic networks for residents and businesses.

Fiber is made of glass and the fiber-optic cables use lasers to transmit information, whereas most Internet connection today includes copper cables. Beyond the speed capabilities that fiber provides, Google Fiber also offers a basic broadband plan that is free after a one-time installation fee - $300 in Kansas City and $30 in Provo, where infrastructure was already in place. Google has also provided connection to some schools, libraries and government buildings and it would offer similar programs to new Google Fiber cities, according to the company.

The free option for basic broadband means more families are able to connect online, which means more kids able to access the Internet for homework and teachers are able to communicate with parents online, said Val Hale, CEO of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce in Provo, Utah.

"Think about what it means to have everyone in the city hooked up to the Internet," Hale said. "It creates all types of possibilities from an education standpoint and from a city standpoint, communicating with residents. It just opens a lot of doors and possibilities that previously weren't there."

The addition of Google Fiber has also made pricing more competitive among existing providers, Hale said. "For consumers right now, it's a great thing," he said.

In Austin, AT&T announced plans to launch its high-speed Internet service after Google Fiber said it was expanding there. AT&T's GigaPower service was launched in December at 300 megabits per second and the company plans to offer connection as fast as 1 gigabit per second later this year.

Whether Google commits to Nashville depends on how easy it is to establish a local fiber network. Installing Google Fiber would mean a large-scale construction project that would include adding infrastructure both underground and on poles. Google is working with each of the nine metro areas, which include 34 cities, to determine how the network would be established and what hurdles exist. If some obstacles can't be addressed, Google would decide not to move forward.

"It is entirely possible that we won't be able to bring Google Fiber to Nashville," Lo said. "There might be local complexities that make it simply too difficult. We'd really like to take that first step, which is to take a fairly detailed look at what it actually takes to execute the build."

Metro has been asked to provide infrastructure maps, offer access to existing poles and conduits and ensure it can handle an influx of permit requests to allow Google to build quickly. Meanwhile, Google will study topography, housing density and infrastructure conditions on each prospective city, a process that could take several months.

In Austin, AT&T resisted allowing access of utility poles to Google Fiber, as Google and city officials argued adding to existing infrastructure would be least disruptive to residents. Google, which pays a lease rate for existing utiliity poles, said it was reached an agreement with AT&T.

Nashville Electric Service owns the most utility poles in Nashville, with AT&T being the second largest owner, according to Keith Durbin, Metro director of information technology.

"NES has a positive working relationship with the existing cable providers in the Nashville area, and we are excited about the possibility of working with Google," NES spokeswoman Laurie Parker said in an email.

While the project is still in the exploration phase, Mayor Karl Dean welcomed Google's interest.

"Nashville is a fast-growing, vibrant city, and this announcement speaks to our momentum as a city of the future," Dean said in a statement. "Google is still in the early stages of looking at our city's infrastructure, and we look forward to working with the company as they explore the possibility of bringing Google Fiber to Nashville."

Google is not asking for city financing, according to the company.

If the projects moves forward, Google will plan and design a network and begin connecting homes based on demand within a neighborhood. Once a "fiberhood" signs up enough interested homes, typically five to 10 percent of area homes, residents can choose among plans.

If Nashville is approved, it could be several months until residents access the fiber network, based on timelines in other cities. Google announced it was bringing fiber to Austin in April 2013 and the service will be available to residents by the end of this year, according to the company.

Reach Jamie McGee at 615-259-8071 or on Twitter at @JamieMcGee_.

To follow updates on Google Fiber in Nashville, visit:

Once a neighborhood qualifies for Google Fiber, Google offers the following plans:

TV+Gigabit Internet: includes access to hundreds of TV channels, a storage box that can record eight shows at once and hold up to 500 hours of HD content and "ultrafast" Internet connection (Costs $120 a month in Kansas City).

Gigabit Internet Plan: provides fiber connection that is up to 100 times faster than basic broadband (costs $70 a month in Kansas City).

"Free" Internet: provides basic broadband speeds for a one-time installation fee, then no monthly costs for at least seven years.

Source: Google


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