Apr 17, 2013
Emily McMackin
Emily McMackin
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From Weird to Wired: Why Austin Is the Next Best Gigabit City

Austin, TX

The city that is famous for keeping it weird is about to become known for something else: being wired. Austin made news last week for being chosen as the third (and largest) city to test out Google Fiber’s lightning-fast, 1-gigabit per second broadband service.

Praising the city as a “mecca for creativity and entrepreneurialism,” Google officials announced plans to start rolling out the high-speed service — touted as 100 times faster than the average U.S. connection — by mid-2012.

Among more than 1,000 cities vying for the fiber-optic network when Kansas City was picked as the first launch site in 2011, the Lone Star capital was already on Google’s shortlist due to its growing reputation as a tech and startup hub.

Now that the company has experimented with its fiber in a smaller setting and worked out kinks from deploying it across the varying types of infrastructure in the two-state launch city, the time was right to move to a bigger market — and Austin was the next logical choice, industry observers say.

By taking its fiber to Texas, “Google and its allies have the opportunity to try out field-tested, potentially game-changing ideas about Internet deployment in a very big arena,” notes Nancy Scola in a post for Next City.

Like in Kansas City, Google plans to roll out the service in “fiberhoods” consisting of homes, schools, libraries and community centers. The service costs $70 a month in Kansas City and $120 to include TV service that gives customers the capability to watch all shows in HD and across several devices, including cell phones and PCs. Kansas City residents can also opt to pay a $300 installation fee in exchange for seven years of free Internet service at current broadband speeds.

Though Google has yet to say whether it will launch a fiber-to-business option in Austin, telecom experts are betting on possibility. In a nod to its new Austin home, Google Fiber TV is already carrying the Longhorn Network, a station devoted to broadcasting sporting events from the University of Texas.

Tech Takes to the Heartland
The geographic region Google has targeted thus far for its fiber rollout — America’s Heartland — may seem surprising, but it’s a hotbed of growth for tech startups, a trend that has been classified as the rise of the “Silicon Prairie.” More tech-savvy entrepreneurs are relocating from West Coast and East Coast cities to Texas, Kansas and other Heartland states in search of an affordable, relaxed quality of life and an environment with fewer regulatory obstacles to stand in the way of launching their ventures.

Austin’s climate, live music scene, affordability and diverse quality of life make it a hot city for entrepreneurs, especially those in the video game and social media space. Faster Internet access has the potential to accelerate that draw.

Another advantage in Austin’s favor? It’s thriving tech ecosystem, which includes one of the largest universities in Texas, the Austin Technology Incubator and offices for several tech giants, including Samsung, Facebook, Apple, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Intel, along with Dell’s headquarters in nearby Round Rock, Texas. The city is also home to the annual South by Southwest Festival, a popular event for up-and-coming musicians, filmmakers and interactive firms.

Austin’s wealth of tech resources from firms of all sizes combined with its cooperative municipal leadership and laxer regulatory environment with fewer infrastructure hurdles make it one of the best U.S. cities positioned to build a gigabit-ready Internet.

Growing more gigabit communities like these developing in Kansas City, Chattanooga, Bristol and now Austin is critical to giving innovators the tools they need to develop next-generation applications and services for a world that is increasingly becoming wired, economic leaders say. “Bandwidth-delivered goods and services will drive the lion’s share of the growth, and job growth, in the global economy,” former Federal Communications Commission official Blair Levin told Time magazine.

Where do you see the next gigabit community sprouting up? What is your community doing to boost its broadband infrastructure? Please share your thoughts below.

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