Louisville is on the verge of joining a select few cities boasting a coveted technology service. Google Fiber representatives will spend the next several months exploring the feasibility of installing ultra-fast fiber Internet connectivity in the city.
The announcement of the partnership came Thursday afternoon. City officials see it as a big boost for technology in Louisville, helping both consumers and the city’s economic development efforts.
Google Fiber offers connection speeds up to 100 times faster than what is currently available in Louisville, said Ted Smith, the city’s chief innovation officer. It’s also cheaper than most of the plans currently offered to the city’s residents, he said.
Beyond quicker download times and smaller bills, it also means that Louisville joins an exclusive list of cities that have been successful in attracting businesses and retaining talent.
But what does an exploration phase mean for Google Fiber? And is there a chance that Google will back away from Louisville?
For starters, Google Fiber has never backed away from a city after making this type of announcement, said Ashley Kroh, spokeswoman for Google Fiber’s Southeast region.
“Every city that we’ve made an announcement that we’re coming, we are beginning construction or serving residents,” she said.
But she said Louisville is in an early stage of development for Google Fiber. It’s too early to tell when the network will begin to be installed, and there’s no word on which Louisville neighborhoods would first get the ultra-fast connection.
Kroh said Google Fiber staff will work with the city’s tech leaders on a “Google Fiber Checklist,” which details what the city needs to do to ensure Google Fiber is successful.
The checklist includes the less-sexy matters of the coveted Internet service: permitting, construction standards and infrastructure placement, Kroh said.
Smith said he has been focused on that checklist since 2013.
Some requirements on the checklist, such as readily available and updated information on the city’s right-of-ways and utility poles, can already be checked off. Such data is important for this type of project because it will allow Google Fiber planners to see where they can place cables, where existing infrastructure is and where they’ll need to add more robust systems.
“That’s the very first thing companies like Google need, they need to know where stuff is,” Smith said.
As for permitting, Mayor Greg Fischer said his administration has worked to streamline the process of issuing permits and licenses, and the team he has assembled to work with Google Fiber will continue that effort.
“Our goal with Google is to be seen as the easiest city in the country for them to work with in terms of getting fiber in the ground and connected to homes,” he said.
The Fiber To The Home Council report outlining recommendations to becoming a fiber-friendly city notes that cities should have a guaranteed response deadline on permit applications of no more than five business days. It also recommends that cities permit “innovative” construction techniques, such as microtrenching.
Smith said the scope of the project will require a lot of permits, but he is hopeful that the process will go smoothly.
Kroh said the fiber network will be placed above and below ground, but planners are still looking at how best to install the cables.
Fischer said when it comes to the use of the public right-of-way, “there are no exclusives.” And if Google Fiber planners decide to use existing infrastructure, they’ll likely be required to pay a fee, which is collected by the state.
Fischer said he’d like to change that, but it’s unlikely to happen.
The mayor said he expects any issues that arise regarding use of the public right-of-ways to be resolved. He doesn’t expect any such issues to hinder the development of the project, he said. The entire planning and development effort is funded by Google Fiber, Fischer said.
Google Fiber would mean faster connectivity for consumers. But it could also boost Louisville’s technology sector.
Steve Fowler, marketing director of the local startup Interapt, said the company could benefit from ultra high-speed Internet. Interapt helps companies develop mobile and wearable technology. It has worked with Google on its Glass product.
For companies like Interapt, Google Fiber is a big deal.
“It’s critical,” he said. “It’s not just critical for your operations, but it’s critical for attracting and retaining talent, people who can help your company grow and live where your company is based.”