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Google Fiber Is Coming To Louisville, City Says

John Cummings/Creative Commons

Residents in Louisville Metro may soon have access to Google Fiber.

City officials issued a news release Wednesday assuring the company "will soon begin construction in Louisville" of an ultra high speed internet network.

The announcement comes after years of city officials courting the tech giant to bring its sought-after service to Louisville. It's considered to be a boon for economic development and affords a certain status city officials contend is critical for attracting businesses and young professionals.

The news release offers few details of Google Fiber's expected roll out in Louisville and is a stark contrast to the initial announcement some two years ago that the company was interested in expanding to the city. At that time, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined a handful of city officials for a public press event downtown that drew fanfare and applause.

A reason for the change in tune could stem from a switch in strategy from Google Fiber, itself, said Jason Hiner, global editor-in-chief for TechRepublic, an online tech publication.

In October 2016, Google Fiber made some big changes to its plan for expanding fiber connectivity in cities across the country. Expansion plans in some cities were put on hold while Google Fiber reassessed the infrastructure needed to make the expansions a reality, Hiner said.

During this time, Google Fiber acquired Webpass, a company focused on wireless internet connectivity. Hiner said it's likely Google Fiber will utilize this technology for its expansion in Louisville.

"It's a lot faster and less expensive," he said.

But with the time and cost savings comes a potential for hesitation, Hiner added.

And that hesitation could be evident in the announcement Wednesday. By downplaying this announcement, Google Fiber and city officials, alike, keep expectations low.

"That way, if this doesn't work out, it's not that embarrassing," Hiner said.

Still, the announcement is a big deal for the tech world, he said.

'It will change everything'

If Google Fiber holds to the plan to utilize a largely wireless connection model in their deployment of service in Louisville, it could be the first time such infrastructure is used on a city-wide scale, Hiner said.

"It will change everything," he said.

The essence of the scope would be that residents could forgo the need to have fiber cables strung from utility poles to their homes. Instead, it's perhaps more likely they'd simply affix an antenna to their home, which would pick up an internet signal beamed from a nearby station, Hiner said.

What's unknown is how the breadth of this connectivity plan would compare with the initial plan to construct a series of "huts" across the city to which homes would have been connected to. Those "huts" were expected to be able to connect up to 40,000 homes, each, Hiner said.

And another challenge for Google Fiber may be competing with AT&T, the company that's already racing to establish a foothold of fiber availability in Louisville.

Joe Burgan, a spokesman for the company, said AT&T is "marketing" fiber internet connectivity to some 50,000 locations in Louisville. It's unclear just how many locations are actually hooked up to fiber, however.

If Google Fiber is successful in Louisville it will certainly be something city officials will celebrate, Hiner said.

They've been long pushing for faster internet service in Louisville.

Ted Smith, the city's former head of civic innovation, said that effort began in earnest in 2012 after Louisville was initially passed over by Google Fiber.

"We went on the offensive," he said.

Smith said officials pledged to do "everything in our power" to make Louisville a place internet service providers wanted to expand fiber connectivity.

One Touch Make Ready

One of those measures included a controversial city ordinance widely known as "one touch make ready." The ordinance allows contractors to rearrange existing equipment on utility poles and is considered an essential element in reducing the time and work needed to fit new cabling onto existing poles.

That ordinance, however, led AT&T to file suit against the city, arguing the Metro Council lacks the authority needed to regulate utility pole attachments. Such an ordinance, the company argues, would cause “irreparable harm” by allowing competitor companies to move existing cabling affixed to utility poles.

WDRB reported Louisville Metro government has spent nearly $160,000 in defense of the suit.

When asked if the effort to defend the suit is for naught, considering Google Fiber is leaning towards a wireless-centric expansion in Louisville, Smith said "one touch make ready" is bigger than Google Fiber.

The broader issue, he said, is how local governments can pave the way for telecommunication companies to install infrastructure in a safe, modern, efficient way.

"There's going to be a lot more construction of things in public spaces as we continue to have more and more microcells in the next generation of technology," he said. "I see it as part of a bigger story, a bigger journey."

Hiner, from TechRepublic, said utility poles will continue to be a critical piece of infrastructure for internet expansion for years to come. And, if nothing else, the commitment Louisville Metro government has shown in defending the ordinance garnered the city commitment from Google Fiber to not abandon their plans for local expansion, he said.

"That really is an interesting feather in Louisville's cap," he said. "It shows other cities that if they make that priority they can potentially get this type of thing in their community as well."

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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