Saturday, May 17, 2014

Google Fiber to provide high-speed internet to community sites

EDITOR'S NOTE: A final project for Spring 2014.

By Maribel Molina

Click for visualization
In mid-2014, Austin will become the newest partner with Google Fiber, creating a network within the city limits providing internet connections up to 100 times faster than traditional broadband speeds. As part of the deal to bring the program to Austin, Google agreed to provide up to 100 sites around the city with free connections until the year 2023, a program called Community Connections.

The 100 Community Connection sites are comprised of public facilities and services as well as non-profit organizations. In total, 59 organizations make up the 100 Community Connection sites. Both the city hall and central public library downtown will get the Google Fiber connection, increasing the total of free-of-charge Google Fiber sites to 102.

John Spiers, Program Coordinator for Digital Inclusion with the City of Austin said there was a overwhelming interest in becoming a Google Fiber site.

“We had 310 total applications from over 158 different organizations (agencies were permitted to submit multiple applications for sites).” Spiers said. “Of the applications submitted, only eleven were disqualified for not complying with the application requirements.”

The Community Connections sites each fall under one of four categories. Fifty-four of the sites are classified as “Public (Government) Facilities and Entities.” These include Austin Independent School District’s locations at its 13 high schools and 24 branches of the Austin Public Library. The second-leading category is “Social, Health and Well-Being (including family services)” with 21, followed by “Arts, Culture and Community” with 13 and “Education, Workforce and Higher Education” with 12 sites.

The selection process included the city council passing a resolution including sets of questions addressing four topics. From there, the city would go on to present a site location list to Google.

“City staff, led by the Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs Office, administratively reviewed and assessed each application using a four tiered criteria matrix, comprised of Community, Innovation, Pragmatic, and Organization,” said Spiers.

This criteria matrix used was approved the an Austin City Council resolution and included a set of questions for each tier. For example, under Community, a question used in reviewing applications was “How much of the community will benefit from the connection?”

Other questions addressed topics such as whether the organization looked to expand services based on the broadband connection and if the agency already has access to an affordable high-speed connection.

Diversity also played a key role in the selection process, with the city staff considering geographic location and demographics in social, age and ethnic aspects.

Locations range from as far south as Akins High School on south First St. to as far north as Westwood High School in the Round Rock Independent School District. Seventeen locations reside in the 78702 zip code in East Austin, the most of any zip code area. The furthest site to the west is the African-American Youth Harvest near Highway 71 and 290 while the furthest eastern site is Decker Middle School in the Manor Independent School District.

Google Fiber offers packages including Gigabit+TV, Gigabit Internet and internet at today’s basic speeds, ranging in price from $120 a month to free. The Community Connection sites will receive only the Gigabit Internet, a service which normally costs approximately $70 a month for users.

Non-profit radio station KOOP currently employs three people, while volunteers run the controls, engineer and host the radio shows. The station applied to the Community Connections program after volunteers heard about it through the Austin City Council.

“We had our ear to the ground and are up-to-date with information,” McCarson said. “It was very instrumental to have the councilwoman [Laura Morrison] urge Google Fiber to include non-profits in the program.”

The station’s budget comes largely from membership drive donations and grant money. McCarson said a big benefit of the Google Fiber connection is that it is free. The station is broadcast on 91.7 FM during the morning and early afternoon hours, but is also available through an online streaming.

“We can only carry a limited number of streams before it starts to disintegrate and before it buffers,” McCarson said. “About 75 can be online without problems and after that, it’s very difficult to afford the connection for more.”

Having Google Fiber would also assist hosts by allowing them to work from home. One of the difficulties of doing so currently is the files for the show are so large and not easy to send back and forth. McCarson said the station wanted to serve a diverse audience.

“We’re all about bringing community members to the radio,” McCarson said. “With single moms and the handicapped, something can prevent them from coming to the studio.”

Austin is the second city in the country to partner with Google Fiber and the first in Texas. The broadband program launched in Kansas City, Kansas in 2014. Provo, Utah will be the third city to get the service.


Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.