Map of current and potential Google Fiber cities.

Mayor Julián Castro announced today that San Antonio has made the short list of nine cities nationwide under consideration by Google Fiber, expanding San Antonio’s broadband opportunities with one gigabit speeds.

Mark Strama, head of Google Fiber Austin, joined Castro at the announcement, explaining that Google Fiber will begin a study of the city to determine feasibility for rolling out the ultra-fast network. Some of the factors to be considered include availability of facilities, potential demand and access to right of way throughout the city.

When Google first announced its plans to begin deployment of fiber networks in 2010, over 1,100 cities applied to be considered. At that time, Kansas City was selected as the first Google Fiber city, followed shortly by Austin and Provo, UT.

Today’s announcement adds 34 cities worldwide to the list for consideration, including the nine cities of San Antonio, San Jose, Portland, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Nashville, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, and Atlanta.

“San Antonians deserve Internet speed that is something faster than third world speeds,” said Mayor Castro.

Mayor Julián Castro (right) announces San Antonio's Google Fiber potential with (from left) Mark Strama of Google Fiber Austin, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez, and District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal.
Mayor Julián Castro (right) announces San Antonio’s Google Fiber potential with (from left) Mark Strama of Google Fiber Austin, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez, and District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal. (Other council members present, but not pictured.) Photo by Randy Bear.

Recently, in a New York Times article about the lagging state of broadband in the United States, San Antonio was compared to Riga, Latvia, who’s Internet speed is over twice as fast and a quarter of the cost of San Antonio’s. Today’s average broadband speeds in America are around 9.8 megabits per second. Should Google Fiber decide to proceed forward with deployment to San Antonio, residential speeds could be as fast as 100 times the national average, both upload and download.

While prices were not discussed this morning, Strama referred to the pricing currently experienced by Kansas City residents, where entry level pricing for 5Mbps/1 Mbps is free after a $300 construction fee. Gigabit service is available for $70 per month and TV/Internet service is available for $120/month. At this point, Google Fiber Austin has not announced pricing plans for service, expected later this year after the rollout plan is determined.

Hugh Miller, chief information officer for the City of San Antonio, said the city’s relationship with CPS Energy could make the process of deployment much easier by leveraging the pole access and city’s right of way to avoid excessive disruption throughout the city. Google Fiber will also be looking at the possibility of leasing city facilities in neighborhoods to establish “fiber huts” in “fiberhoods” throughout the city. Those locations will be determined by demand generated by customers as Google Fiber determines feasibility for the service within the city.

Miller said each hut will accommodate 10,000 access points, so the city is looking at 40-45 locations around the city that could serve as ideal locations for deployment within the city. Based on the city’s experience with expanding its own broadband network using fiber put in place by CPS Energy over a decade ago, Miller feels San Antonio could see Google Fiber faster than some other cities.

“I think because we have close link with the utility company and represent 86 percent of the pole access helped,” Miller said when asked why San Antonio made the cut.

When asked how Google’s announcement might fit with the San Antonio Area Broadband Network (SAABN), announced last year by Castro and former Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna, Castro said this would be complimentary since Google Fiber is focused on residential and SAABN is focused on public entities such as schools, hospitals, and other non-profit organizations. One example of something similar is in Austin where the Greater Austin Area Telecommunications Network (GAATN) plans to interconnect with Google Fiber to provide ultra-high speed connections between the two.

National Broadband Map view of San Antonio.
National Broadband Map view of San Antonio.

Looking forward, Miller said that Google’s community investment could also help provide broadband access into lower income neighborhoods that is currently not available today. As you explore broadband coverage within San Antonio using the National Broadband Map, you’ll find areas of the south and west of San Antonio lacking high speed broadband access. As the plans are determined for rollout, this is one area that should be watched, based on past experience in Kansas City, where several low income neighborhoods were excluded from the initial plan.

Google’s plans to expand service throughout the nation helps communities think about how to deploy broadband into the neighborhoods. “While we do want to bring Fiber to every one of these cities, it might not work out for everyone. But cities who go through this process with us will be more prepared for us or any provider who wants to build a fiber network,” said Milo Medin, VP of Google Access Services in the release.

Castro and Strama gave no timetable for the next steps, but the announcement today puts San Antonio and the other eight cities far ahead of other areas of the nation in getting Google Fiber. It could also spur new announcements from AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Grande Communications as a counter to the move. In Austin after the announcement of being selected as a Google Fiber city, AT&T announced its new Gigapower network.

*Featured/top photo courtesy of Google Fiber.

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Randy Bear

Randy Bear is a 20-plus years San Antonio resident, transplanted from Little Rock to join the ranks of USAA in Information Technology. Over the last two decades, he’s been involved in a variety of civic...