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For Portland Residents, Google Fiber Is Welcome -- But Not The Remedy


The tablets wouldn't work.

The cell phones were slow.

Kim Corn was feverishly trying to hook up to the internet but had no such luck.

"It makes me mad," Corn said. "I'm paying a good penny, I want it to work."

Corn lives on Bank Street in the city's Portland neighborhood and is looking forward to next week when crews will begin installing Google Fiber along her block.

If the highly touted service is as good as it's billed, Corn said she'll be the first to sign up.

Her neighborhood will be among the first to be connected to Google Fiber. The stretch of Portland where she lives and where Google Fiber is planning to build is one of the city's poorest, according to a recent reportfrom The Greater Louisville Project.

Corn's home is surrounded by vacant properties and the streets are pocked with trash and debris. Crime and drug abuse plague the area, and Corn wants things to change for the better.

City officials consider ultra high speed internet connectivity as one way to do that.

They praise Google Fiber's plan to begin their city-wide build out in Portland. Grace Simrall, the city's chief innovation officer, said the plan aligns with her team's goal of bridging Louisville's digital divide.

"We view connectivity -- specifically fiber connectivity -- as a foundation and you can't do anything without that foundation," she said.

But as crews prep to bury miles of the sought after Google Fiber cabling across the Portland area, Simrall is concerned about another city-led effort to bring more connectivity to western Louisville that's hitting a snag.


Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer's proposed spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year sets aside more than $5 million for a project that would add more than 90 miles of fiber infrastructure across the city by leveraging the work of the Kentucky Communications Network Authority's Kentucky Wired project.

A portion of the project would expand into western Louisville.

Simrall said this "middle mile" infrastructure would be city-owned and, ideally, leased out to companies looking to provide ultra high speed service to residents.

"You can't have those lines to the home without this line," she said.

The allocation hinges on Metro Council approval and some council members are skeptical about the plan.

Councilman Kevin Kramer, a Republican from the Hikes Point area, said a city funded fiber expansion should be used for city purposes.

Kramer worries that leasing the line out to companies could spell trouble for local government, which may need to tap into that connection in the coming years -- and in doing so could be forced to terminate leases with those residential providers.

"I think it would be a mistake on the city's part to find themselves in a situation where, down the road, someone who got high speed internet access because of us, lost high speed internet access because of us," he said.

But he's not against the idea of expanding fiber connections westward.

He said such connectivity is imperative for Louisville's ambitions to become a "smart city." And, what's more, it could help advance the capabilities of existing technologies related to public safety and transit.

"We should be looking towards the future, knowing there will be a need," he said.

Beyond the Metro Council, national groups are also taking an interest in the expansion project, according to a reportfrom The Courier-Journal, which highlights a social media campaign backed by the wealthy Koch brothers to squash the project.

Fischer has pushed against the campaign. He posted on social media Thursday urging residents to support the project.

And Simrall said to not support the project would be to not support the advancement of western Louisville neighborhoods.

"If we wait, we will continue to be limited by our existing fiber footprint," she said.

While Simrall and other city officials wait and hope for the council to approve the allocation for the fiber expansion, Google Fiber will begin its construction in the coming days.

Yet still, not everyone in Portland is convinced of the project's benefits.

Chris Turner lives a few blocks away from Kim Corn on Bank Street. He lives with his young son and their big dog, Champ.

He's a bit surprised Portland will be the first neighborhood linked up to Google Fiber.

"It seems there are more people in different parts of the city that would see the benefit of having it," he said. "If you put it down here it may be a dead project."

And as for lifting up the neighborhood -- Turner said it'll take more than good internet.

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.