San Antonio is the largest and one of the most complicated cities that Google Fiber has selected to roll out its super fast internet service in, City Manager Sheryl Sculley told City Council on Wednesday during a briefing on the internet giant’s progress towards its goal of installing 4,000 miles of fiber-optic cable across the sprawling city.
“We have witnessed some of the growing pains of that process with fiber deployment and we’re seeing progress, though, in the business development and community,” Sculley said.
But for John Whitsett, who works in commercial real estate, these “growing pains” represent mismanagement of public park land and a City that, in its haste to encourage new technology and business, let down residents that have to live with Google Fiber’s new infrastructure.
On Aug. 4, Whitsett watched a semi-truck pull in to Haskin Park, a one-acre pocket park across from his home in the Oak Park-Northwood neighborhood. It was carrying a “network hut,” a critical component of the fiber-optic network that acts as a distribution point for up to 12,000 households. Much of the park was closed to the public for weeks before and after the hut dropped down. The hut and its loud air-conditioning units are steps away from some of his neighbors’ back patios – Patios that used to look out onto a park.
“Don’t get me wrong, I was ready to get rid of my (internet service provider) and sign up for Google Fiber,” Whitsett told the Rivard Report while snapping photos of the semi-truck, “but not when it’s at the expense of parkland.”
City Council approved a 20-year $1 million master lease agreement with Google in March 2014, under then-Mayor Julián Castro. The document outlined the 17 hut locations the company would need in order to build out its network, but as it began installation on the first huts and cables in April, concerned neighbors began to contact their Council members.
Five of Google’s huts will be located within public parks, two at libraries, five at fire stations, one at a police station, one on a vacant parcel, and one near a drainage feature. All are located on City property, and there is at least one hut in each Council district.
“In the excitement about bringing high-speed fiber (to San Antonio), I’m not sure there was a focus on the size and the locations,” Sculley told City Council on Wednesday. The huts are 300 sq. ft. – about 10 feet high, 30 feet long, and 10 feet deep – the size of a small apartment or efficiency. “There still is a lot of work to do with the community as we talk about those locations. And we’re learning along the way.”
A network hut in District 1, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said, was slated for installation inside a soccer field at West End Park. It was instead built seven feet away where it now sits surrounded by a chain link fence. The hut can not be considered aesthetically pleasing by any stretch of the imagination.