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Will Google Fiber Bridge San Antonio's Digital Divide?

Photo: Courtesy of the Open Technology Institute, License: N/A

Courtesy of the Open Technology Institute

The map reveals disparities in internet access along socio-economic and geographical lines

“Just like the transition from dial-up to broadband, we believe gigabit speed will produce all sorts of innovation that we can’t even fathom,” says Wandres. “It’s the future of the web.”

Aside from speed, another alluring aspect of the project is the network’s affordability. When former state representative Mark Strama, who now heads Google Fiber efforts in Austin, joined Castro’s announcement in February, he pointed to costs currently offered in Kansas City: Residents there can get gigabit internet for $70 month, bundle the service with TV for $120 or pay a $300 construction fee for seven years (or $25/month for a year) of basic broadband speed. While the network would be sized for the entire city, the question of who gets access is up to communities.

But a fiber network doesn’t just mean faster speeds; it also guarantees disruption in the community.

In order to be considered, SA and the other metros are required to go through a few hoops. That includes figuring out what permits are needed to build the network, accessing infrastructure and identifying what structures are already in place.

San Antonio cleared the first hurdle, completing those requirements on May 1. In fact, the city is ahead of the game—in March, city council approved a long-term master lease contract with Google to install 40 “Fiberhuts” (storage sheds that house tech equipment, expected to be installed at municipally-owned spots around town), making SA the first city in the running to complete a hut license agreement.

“Now we are just waiting for Google to assess all that data and come back to let us know if they are officially coming to San Antonio,” Hugh Miller, the City of San Antonio’s chief technology officer, tells the Current.

San Antonio also has an advantage over some cities by virtue of owning its electric company. CPS Energy controls about 86 percent of the poles that would allow for deployment, rather than a big broadband company, like AT&T, which pushed back hard against an attempt by Austin’s city council to force the telecom company to allow Google Fiber to use its poles.

Wandres says the next step is for Google to survey the checklist, draw up maps of the city and figure out where to place fiber cables—a time-consuming process. And even if San Antonio does make the cut, it will be years until the service is available to consumers.

“We anticipate once [Google] announce[s], it’ll be about a three-to-four-year build-out,” predicts Miller.

If and when Fiber does roll out here, Miller envisions increased benefits like interactive class instruction, telemedicine services, telecomuting and professional recruitment. Quality of digital life could improve even further with the City’s plans to negotiate public wi-fi in the deal. Today, COSA provides public internet access to some parks, the airport, libraries and a few municipal buildings—the preliminary fiber plan could greatly expand that.

A final decision won’t be made until the end of the year, but signs are promising that San Antonio is, at least, being strongly considered.

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