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City Leaders Push Gigabit Internet After Reports Of Google Fiber Pullback

John Cummings/Creative Commons

Just a day after reports surfaced that Google Fiber may reconsider an expansion of its coveted gigabit internet service in Louisville and other cities, local leaders were doubling down on efforts to stir excitement for the ultra-high speed connectivity.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that costly and time-intensive infrastructure installations in cities across the country may be causing Google Fiber to change course on its plan to bring faster internet to a number of cities. Projects in San Jose, California, and Portland, Oregon, are currently suspended, according to the newspaper.

Louisville is one of 12 Google Fiber expansion cities; both San Jose and Portland are also on that list.

In an interview, Ted Smith, Louisville's chief innovation officer, dismissed the report. He said Google Fiber has not disclosed any plans to delay the service's expansion in Louisville.

But the news appears to be prompting action locally. Since the Wall Street Journal report surfaced Monday, Mayor Greg Fischer and Bill Dieruf, mayor of Jeffersontown, have each issued separate news releases touting their desire to bring gigabit internet to the area.

“Gigabit connectivity is a key to creating socioeconomic opportunity and equity in a global economy," Fischer said in a release Tuesday announcing a grant awarded to the city for a "gigabit experience center."

The $30,000 grant comes from the nonprofit Next Century Cities and will outfit an existing community center with gigabit connectivity, according to city officials.

"It's one of those things that need to be experienced," Smith said.

The service is considered to be up to 100 times faster than what’s currently available and comes at a lower cost to consumers, he said.

It's unclear just where the center will be established. Smith said it will likely be in a community center in Russell. The area is the focus of a string of revitalization efforts, and earlier this year, city officials set up a solar-powered WiFi hotspot in the neighborhood.

Smith said the gigabit experience center will be the "fastest hotspot in our community."

He said the grant would fund the internet service for about a year. Funding for the installation of needed infrastructure, like cabling, is yet to be secured, he said.

Hours after that announcement, Dieruf announced he would hold a ceremony later this week to present a signed franchise agreement to a Google Fiber representative.

The agreement is signed by the mayors of the some 80 smaller cities within Jefferson County and "are the culmination of nearly a year’s efforts to develop a strategy for the construction of a county-wide fiber network from the ground up."

Local legislators have made a concerted push in recent months to streamline fiber internet installation for providers like Google Fiber. Joint franchise agreements like the one Dieruf will praise later this week are one example.

Others, like a controversial "one touch make ready" ordinance approved earlier this year by the Louisville Metro Council, sparked a lawsuit from AT&T Kentucky. Metro government is now defending the ordinance in court.

The move by AT&T could help the telecommunications provider get a head start on Google Fiber and other potential fiber internet competitors, said Jason Hiner, global editor-in-chief of TechRepublic.

He said it could also set a precedent for Google Fiber’s future expansion.

“It’s a pretty important test case,” he said. “For the future of internet in the U.S., it has pretty huge implications.”

There is also an economic impact of bringing the service to Louisville.

Under current plans, Google Fiber is expected to invest between $300 million and $1 billion to install needed infrastructure in Louisville. Homeowners connected to the service may also see their property values increase by as much as $5,000, Smith said.

Jacob Ryan is an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.