Thursday, October 02, 2014

Digital Inclusion: a Long-term Investment

Ed note: In this installment of our Google Fiber Behind the Scenes series, Erica Swanson, head of community impact programs for Google Fiber, shares what she‘s learned about the challenges that communities face in closing the digital divide, and what her team does to help.

Because of the Internet, we have access to more information than at any other time in history. With a few clicks, we can find answers to simple questions (“how to boil an egg”) or explore complicated topics (“Is Pluto a planet?”). And more than ever, the Internet connects us to opportunity — it’s where we go to prepare homework assignments, apply to college, or look for a job. But with roughly 60 million people not yet using the Internet, the U.S. still has a long way to go before everyone is connected.

Unfortunately, while the effects of this digital divide are easy to see, the solutions are less obvious. This is a long-term, complex problem — and creating change requires time, a sustained commitment, and close collaboration with local partners who can make progress day by day.

When people are asked why they don’t have the Internet, they cite reasons you’d expect, such as cost (19% of non-Internet users). But research also shows that 34% of people who don’t use the Internet don’t yet see it as relevant to their lives, and 32% cite usability as an obstacle. The good news is that cities, community organizations, and Internet service providers like Google Fiber are working to address these issues by making digital inclusion a local priority, finding new ways to collaborate, and meeting non-Internet users where they are.

My team and I recently visited all nine of the metro areas where we are considering expanding Google Fiber. Well before the first fiber is laid, we wanted to meet with city and community leaders to start exploring how we can work together to connect more people. So much of what we heard and saw was inspiring: an “Anytime Access for All” initiative in Nashville; Avenida Guadalupe’s computer basics classes in San Antonio; and CFY Atlanta’s Digital Learning Program are just a few examples.

These visits were also a chance for us to share how we can build on the good work that local leaders are already doing:

Make the Internet more affordable
Google Fiber offers people one of the most affordable ways to get online, and it’s available to anyone in a fiberhood who wants it — regardless of income. In existing markets, we offer a connection to basic Internet speeds for just a $300 construction fee (or $25/month for 12 months). Homes then get free Internet for seven years, which comes out to a savings of about $900 over seven years compared to other basic offerings. For people in apartment buildings whose landlords sign up for Fiber, the service is completely free. Importantly, Fiber helps people “future-proof” their home Internet — anyone who signs up for our basic service can switch up to gigabit speeds anytime.

Make access a part of the community
For many people, public computing centers and community organizations serve as the on-ramp to the Internet. We’re hooking up hundreds of neighborhood institutions through our Community Connections program so people in Google Fiber cities have a place where they can get access to gigabit speeds, even if they don’t yet want the Internet at home.

Show people why the Internet matters
Our rally model, which asks fiberhoods to come together to meet a registration goal for Fiber, sends us out into communities to talk one-on-one with people about how the Internet can be useful in their daily lives. In Kansas City’s Blue Hills neighborhood, Google Fiber and neighbors came together to rally for Fiber in 2012. Recently in Provo, we partnered with the United Way to spread the word in low-income areas and encourage people to sign up. National broadband experts say this hyper-local outreach is helping to spur demand and interest in the Internet.

Teach people how to get online
Working with partners, we create programs that help people learn how to do things like power on a computer, use a search engine, or open an email account. For example, in Kansas City, Provo and Austin, we’re working with local universities to build teams of digital literacy trainers through our Community Leaders Program. We recruit and train college students, then match them with local organizations to run digital literacy programs in the community. And in Kansas City, Google joined local companies to help launch the Digital Inclusion Fund to support local nonprofits and community organizations that are helping people take full advantage of the Internet.

Google Fiber started with a goal to make the Web faster — for everyone. We also have a goal to make it more affordable, more relevant, and more useful. It takes a lot more than wires to bridge the digital divide, and we can’t do it alone. We don’t expect to. Instead, we’re working alongside partners to chip away at the problem and get more people connected.

PS — We're looking for Community Impact Managers now in a number of cities. Interested? Find more info here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pardon Our Dust in Austin

Hey Austin, have you seen us around town lately? Our Google Fiber crews are now in the process of building a high-speed network that will one day include more than 3,000 miles of brand new, state-of-the-art fiber optic cables — enough to stretch across the longest Interstate highway in the U.S. (or from Boston to Seattle).

Since we don’t use any existing copper cables, we’ve been planning and designing our network from scratch. Today we have a detailed network plan in place and our crews are hard at work constructing the network, starting with the core infrastructure that will form the foundation of Google Fiber in Austin.

Over time, our network will grow to thousands of miles of fiber, stretching through underground conduit as well as across utility poles. That’s why we have crews that specialize in both underground and aerial construction — here’s a peek at what they’re doing today.

Our underground crews operate powerful drills that can tunnel through Austin’s limestone, guiding a bore head through the earth to create an underground path for our conduit, then running fiber through the conduit. While we wish we had x-ray vision (we're working on it!), our crew members work hard as a team to avoid existing infrastructure and utilities, calling in “locates” with Texas 811 and using everything from detailed city diagrams to sonar detection to help.

Meanwhile, aerial crews are doing work across thousands of Austin utility poles, reconfiguring communications and power lines to ensure we have room for our fiber. This work allows us to use existing infrastructure and avoid additional underground construction, which tends to be more disruptive to the community.
A steerable bore head helps create the path to run fiber underground

Making room for Google Fiber on Austin's utility poles
Underground or in the air, pardon our dust — in order to bring Google Fiber to a city, a whole lot of heavy lifting has to happen! We are working to build our fiber network in Austin with as much efficiency and as little disruption as possible, but this size of a construction effort is bound to affect a few Austinites day-to-day.

Longer term, we hope this infrastructure will play a big role in the city’s future. Gigabit Internet speeds will open up new possibilities for the way we use the Web, and Austin is well on its way to showing the world how it thinks big with a gig.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gigabit Enthusiasm: an economic reality

Ed. Note: we’re often asked about the economic impact of fiber networks — what does a gig really do for a local economy? To help answer your questions, we have a guest post from Heather Burnett Gold, President of the Fiber to the Home Council Americas, and Dr. David Sosa, a Principal at the Analysis Group. Today they are sharing the findings of a first-of-its-kind research report on the economic impact of fiber-to-the-home networks in U.S. communities.

While many people think of gigabit internet as essential to the future of the Web, others have wondered if these fiber networks just might be too fast, too soon. Based on early evidence of the economic impact of fiber-fed, gigabit services, we believe that the time for gigabit skepticism is over.

Today the Fiber-to-the-Home Council Americas (FTTH Council) released a first-of-its-kind study — Early Evidence Suggests Gigabit Broadband Drives GDP — which looked at 55 communities in 9 states and found a positive impact on economic activity in the 14 communities where gigabit Internet services are widely available. In fact, these gigabit broadband communities exhibited a per capita GDP approximately 1.1 percent higher than the 41 similar communities with little to no availability of gigabit services.

This may not sound like much but consider this: in dollar terms, our research suggests that the 14 gigabit broadband communities studied enjoyed approximately $1.4 billion in additional GDP when gigabit broadband became widely available. (That’s enough money to buy the Buffalo Bills — if you wanted to).

Our study suggests that as gigabit services become available in more communities, the impact on economies and consumers is likely to be substantial. Indeed, if the 41 communities in our study without gigabit broadband were to adopt the new service, they could expect as much as $3.3 billion in incremental GDP. And we are not alone in this perspective; the ratings agency Fitch underscored this point when it upgraded Kansas City, Missouri’s bond ratings, noting that the gigabit to the home fiber network “[…] has the potential to make a significant economic impact.”

The deployment of widespread ultra-high bandwidth broadband offers great promise for our economic future, similar to the way that access to abundant electricity transformed the country, lighting up factories to produce affordable consumer goods and automobiles for transportation. The availability of electricity spurred an era of high productivity and economic growth. And now, we are beginning to see that access to abundant bandwidth is likely to have a similarly positive impact on our economy.

Widespread gigabit availability contributes to the economy in multiple ways. Investment in physical infrastructure and labor creates jobs and increases expenditures into inputs like electronics and fiber optic cable. But next generation broadband infrastructure can also shift economic activity, sparking local tech scenes and the relocation of businesses. Claris Networks moved its data center operations from Knoxville to Chattanooga to take advantage of its fiber network. Lafayette's network attracted Hollywood special effects company Pixel Magic to the community, because the high performance gigabit network lets Pixel Magic move computer files back and forth between Lafayette and California quickly. And from the Hacker House in Kansas City to Fargo’s Startup House in Fargo, North Dakota, local entrepreneurs are using gigabit networks to develop new applications and services, bringing in new investment and talent along the way.

In the last several years, communities, their leaders and several private companies have made moves to stimulate and support our economy by upgrading our networks to gigabit capabilities. They, and we, remain gigabit enthusiasts, willing to welcome the skeptics to help us make gigabit communities a priority.

Posted by Heather Burnett Gold, the FTTH Council and Dr. David Sosa, the Analysis Group

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A World Record for Provo

Kissing puppies and llamas, painting bricks for a local art project, shooting free throws at the rec center, donating canned goods, and performing on a karaoke stage: all of this (and much more!) was part of a historic day this past weekend in Provo, Utah.

Google Fiber joined the broader Provo community in an effort to shatter the official world record for the largest scavenger hunt, as determined by Guinness World Records. And shatter it the city did — the previous record of 924 is history, with a total of 2,079 “hunters” finishing the Passport to Provo challenge on Saturday, September 13.

Along with Provo Mayor John Curtis, Downtown Provo and Cotopaxi (a local outdoor gear and apparel company), Google Fiber supported the event to help bring together thousands of Provoans to explore and celebrate their downtown.
Mayor John Curtis rallies Provo hunters while Guinness World Records looks on
Under the watchful eye of Annie, our judge from Guinness World Records, teams of hunters — groups of families, friends and students — filled Provo streets, businesses, nonprofit organizations, community parks and historical landmarks to complete the challenge.

Hunters completed at least 15 tasks from categories such as Downtown Culture, Quirky and Fun, Outdoor and Adventure, Community Service and Local Business. The event ended with a party with performances by local Provo talent.

Watch this video to see all the fun and don’t forget: this week is the last chance for anyone in a Provo fiberhood to get Fiber for $30 — sign up by September 20th. After this wave of sign-ups and installations, our construction fee will increase from $30 to its usual $300 at our next sign-up opportunity.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Kicking off sign-ups in Johnson County, Kansas

Despite this sticky midwest summer, our Fiber construction and installation crews are making good progress here in KC. We’ve completed over 7,000 miles of construction, recently started installing service for new customers in and around the northern and southern parts of Kansas City — and now we’re ready to keep rolling out into the surrounding Johnson County area!

Starting today, residents in Westwood, Westwood Hills, Mission Woods and Roeland Park can start signing up for Google Fiber. To see whether your home is in one of these areas, go to our website at and enter your address. If you’re eligible in this round of sign-ups, you’ll be able to select which Fiber package you want. Remember, you’ll only be able to sign-up for a limited time — from now until September 12th — so make sure you choose your plan sooner rather than later. This will help us to get installations started as quickly as possible.

We’re also giving residents in our original group of qualified fiberhoods — in Kansas City, Kan. and Central Kansas City, Mo. — another chance to sign-up for service. Between now and August 7th, you can go to our website and select your Fiber package.

Of course, as always, we’ll be out and about in the community to answer your questions and help you sign up for service. Over the next few weeks, we hope to see you at one of our events:

Summer Block Party - Join us for some family fun in the sun outside the Fiber Space. From face painting to cotton candy, we'll have something for everyone.
Saturday, July 12, 1pm-5pm @ The Google Fiber Space

Happy hour with Google Fiber - Enjoy a drink or two on us, plus appetizers and live music by Heather Thornton as we toast to gigabit speeds and summertime fun.
Thursday, July 17, 6pm-8pm @ The Legendary Rooftop (located on 2nd floor of garage)

Google Fiber Birthday Celebration - Google Fiber is turning 2, and we want to celebrate with you! Bring your family for face painting, cotton candy, cupcakes, tunes by DJ Robert DeGeorge, and more.
Saturday, July 26, 12pm-4pm @ The Google Fiber Space

Fiber Space Saturday - We're kicking off the weekend with activities for the whole family at the Fiber Space. From face painting to music by DJ Shaun Flo, we'll have something for everyone.
Saturday, August 2, 12pm-4pm @ The Google Fiber Space

Happy Hour with Google Fiber Wednesday, August 6, 6pm-8pm @ The Cashew

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Re-opening Fiber sign-ups in Provo: $30 through September

A hardcover book; a single lawn chair; half a tank of gas; a shirt... it turns out $30 can’t buy all that much these days. That’s why we were excited to offer residents fiber connections in their home, plus at least 7 years of free Internet, for just a $30 installation fee.

Fiber actually costs quite a bit more than $30 to install in a home; in Kansas City, for example, we charge $300. But Provo was looking for a partner that would help keep their vision — affordable, high-speed service for residents — alive. So we promised to offer a fiber connection, plus our Free Internet plan, for $30 to everyone who signed up for our first wave of local installations.

So far, many people have taken advantage of this. However, we’ve also heard from some of you who missed your deadline to get the $30 Fiber — you either moved to a new neighborhood, or you just didn’t know that you needed to sign up by a certain date — and you’ve asked us for another chance to get service. So from now until September 20th, we’re re-opening signups for Fiber; anyone in a Provo fiberhood can go to our website and sign up.

This is the last chance to get Fiber for $30 — after this wave of sign-ups and installations, our construction fee will probably be closer to the same $300 that we charge in Kansas City. So, if you’re interested in getting Fiber, now’s the time to sign up!

Have questions or want to learn more about Fiber? We’re going to be out and about throughout the community over the next few months and we’d love to chat with you or help you sign up!

July 3, 4, and 5 (10AM-8PM) - Visit our booth at the Freedom Days Festival (we’ll have popsicles, Google Fiber sunglasses, and t-shirts while supplies last!)
July 4 (9AM) - Freedom Festival Grand Parade
July 4 (7PM-10:30PM) - Provo Rooftop Concert Series
July 12 (11AM-2PM) - Family-friendly summer outdoor activities at the Google Fiber Field Day (at Provost Elementary School)
July 17 (6:30PM-10:30PM) - Movie Under the Stars (The Lego Movie!) at Bicentennial Park
July 19 (9AM-2PM) - Provo Farmer’s Market

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Building Connected Communities: A Digital Media Lab for Teens

Ed. Note: Every day, nonprofits and community leaders do inspiring work to help their neighbors build digital literacy skills, get access to affordable computers and more. From time to time, we’ll invite some of these organizations to share a bit about their work on our Google Fiber blog; a few weeks ago, we heard from Arts Tech, and today we’ll hear about a Kansas City Public Library program that teaches digital media skills to local youth. Both Arts Tech and the Library’s new Digital Media Lab are supported in-part by the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Fund. The Fund has just announced an upcoming deadline for next year’s grant applications, so if your nonprofit is interested in learning more or applying, visit the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation’s website.

When you think about libraries, you may think of books stacked on shelves and quiet spaces to work. You can definitely find those in the Kansas City Public Libraries; but for more than a decade, we have also been adding digital resources. There are hundreds of computers, usually packed with folks reading the news, checking their email, or looking for jobs. And each week, we offer classes on computer and Internet basics. We started these efforts in part to address the “digital divide” — 25 % of Kansas City residents do not have the Internet at home, others don’t use the web at all, and many who do have access are not sure how to use it to their best advantage.

That is particularly true for youth. Often referred to as digital natives, they are not intimidated by technology. Yet we’ve seen that many teens either don’t have Internet access at home, or they have no idea how to translate their interest in digital media into personal and/or professional opportunities for growth. This lack of access and knowledge directly impacts their workforce readiness, since almost all jobs today require some level of expertise with digital resources.

So we asked an advisory board of teens how we could help them and their peers learn more about digital technology. With their feedback, and with funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Fund, we built a new program — the Kansas City Digital Media Lab (KCDML). KCDML teaches teens high-tech digital skills, and provides them with resources and a platform to find their voice and share their stories.

We opened KCDML at our North-East and Southeast library branches last month, and our teens dove right in. In their first project, they shot and edited personal videos using images they captured in the library. Next, they figured out how to use 3D printers to make Mother’s Day gifts. And in another project, we’ve started teaching teens how to code, focusing mostly on website development, game design, and app creation. (Did you know that the number of computer programming jobs in the U.S is expected to jump 30% from 2010 to 2020? Compare that to the average growth of all other U.S. jobs which is predicted to be just 14%. What a useful skill to pick up at your local library!).

Working on these projects and playing with fancy tech gadgets is cool — but the real opportunity for teens is that they get to work with and learn from a great group of adult collaborators. Kansas City is an amazing intersection of tech and creativity. We are a growing tech hub, and businesses in the KC area employ over 34,000 “digital storytelling” jobs — which means that, in addition to our dedicated library staff, we have a number of professionals who are willing to share their expertise in storytelling, coding and more with our youth.

Of course, while this opportunity for 1:1 learning is incredibly valuable, we also want the KCDML to be a place where teens can “geek out” and play on their own — spending time on what is most interesting to them. The idea of freedom within the space, and ownership over the instruction, is an important part of our lab. It gets noisy...It gets messy...But there is interest-based learning, project creation, and growth happening on every level. So far we have gotten great feedback from both the youth and the adults in the space, so we know we’re on the right track. Moving forward we’ll invite even more like-minded Kansas Citians to come out and be a part of the journey. We’ve got a lab, we’re going mobile, and we have a great group of participants and adult collaborators. We are looking forward to a summer full of noisy, geeky, excited exploration!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Behind the scenes with Google Fiber: Working with content providers to minimize buffering

Ed Note: Nobody likes buffering. So we’re trying to reduce it for our Google Fiber customers. Here’s another installment in our “Fiber Behind the Scenes” series, with a look at how we work to get your content to you as quickly as possible.

We’ve all had the moment where we scratch our heads and ask, “why is this video so slow?” Unfortunately, there’s no single answer to this question. Your video ‘packets’ of online bits and bytes have to travel a really long way, along several different networks, just to get to you, and they could be slowed down anywhere. So, because we know you want to stream videos and browse effortlessly, we’ve designed our network to minimize buffering.

Bringing fiber all the way to your home is only one piece of the puzzle. We also partner with content providers (like YouTube, Netflix, and Akamai) to make the rest of your video’s journey shorter and faster. (This doesn't involve any deals to prioritize their video ‘packets’ over others or otherwise discriminate among Internet traffic — we don't do that.)

Like other Internet providers, Google Fiber provides the ‘last-mile’ Internet connection to your home. Meanwhile, content providers spend a lot of money (many billions of dollars) building their own networks to transport their content all the way to those ‘last-mile’ connections. In that process, the content may run into bottlenecks — if the connections between the content provider and our network are slow or congested, that will slow down your access to content, no matter how fast your connection is.

So that your video doesn’t get caught up in this possible congestion, we invite content providers to hook up their networks directly to ours. This is called ‘peering,’ and it gives you a more direct connection to the content that you want.

We have also worked with services like Netflix so that they can ‘colocate’ their equipment in our Fiber facilities. What does that mean for you? Usually, when you go to Netflix and click on the video that you want to watch, your request needs to travel to and from the closest Netflix data center, which might be a roundtrip of hundreds or thousands of miles. Instead, Netflix has placed their own servers within our facilities (in the same place where we keep our own video-on-demand content). Because the servers are closer to where you live, your content will get to you faster and should be a higher quality.

We give companies like Netflix and Akamai free access to space and power in our facilities and they provide their own content servers. We don’t make money from peering or colocation; since people usually only stream one video at a time, video traffic doesn’t bog down or change the way we manage our network in any meaningful way — so why not help enable it?

But we also don’t charge because it’s really a win-win-win situation. It’s good for content providers because they can deliver really high-quality streaming video to their customers. For example, because Netflix colocated their servers along our network, their customers can access full 1080p HD and, for those who own a 4K TV, Netflix in Ultra HD 4K. It’s good for us because it saves us money (it’s easier to transport video traffic from a local server than it is to transport it thousands of miles). But most importantly, we do this because it gives Fiber users the fastest, most direct route to their content. That way, you can access your favorite shows faster. All-in-all, these arrangements help you experience the best access to content on the Internet — which is the whole point of getting Fiber to begin with!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Checking in on the checklist

Back in February, we started working side-by-side with 34 cities in nine U.S. metro areas to explore what it would take to bring Google Fiber to their communities. Each city has been busy tackling a checklist of items to help prepare for a big local fiber construction project. We’ve been impressed by the enthusiasm and engagement of every one of these cities, and all of them have, for the most part, completed their checklists.

We say “for the most part” because there’s still a lot of work to do over the next few months. We’ll start by working with cities to tie up some checklist-related loose ends. For example, we worked with city staffers to draft agreements that would let us place fiber huts on city land; several city councils still need to approve these agreements. We may spend some time working together to figure out an ideal permitting process that would be fast and efficient. And, as we review the information that cities have already provided, like infrastructure maps, we’ll probably have a lot of follow-up questions.

There’s also a lot to do beyond the checklist. We’ll need to work with either the city or the state to get something called a video franchise agreement, which would basically grant us permission to build a local network. We may also need pole-attachment agreements with local utilities or other companies who can rent us space on their poles. (Stringing fiber along existing poles is the fastest and least disruptive way to deploy it.)

After all of these steps, we’ll start drawing up construction blueprints for local fiber networks. These detailed designs will help us see how complex it would be to build in each city, and will be used as we make our final decisions.

Finally, don’t be surprised (or get too excited!) if you run into a Google Fiber crew doing work around your town, or see postings for local jobs on our Fiber team; before we make a decision about bringing Fiber to your city, we may do some exploratory work and recruiting so that we’re ready to start construction and operations quickly. We still plan to announce which cities will get Google Fiber by the end of the year.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Building Connected Communities: Arts Tech in Kansas City

Ed. Note: Every day, nonprofits and community leaders across America do inspiring work to help their neighbors learn about the web, build digital literacy skills, get access to affordable computers and more. From time to time, we’ll invite some of these organizations to submit guest posts to our Google Fiber blog — starting today, with Dave Sullivan, the Executive Director of a nonprofit called Arts Tech, in Kansas City. Arts Tech has built a new program to bring together tech-savvy teens and seniors who want to learn about the web.

When I talk to seniors — folks who are 65 or older — about the Internet, I get a mix of reactions. Some of them regularly rely on email, video chats and the web to stay in touch with family and find information. But most seniors I meet have rarely, if ever, used computers or the Internet before.

So last year, when several local companies created the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Fund, the first-ever pool of money available here for nonprofits who want to close the digital divide, it gave me an idea. Of the people in Kansas City that don’t use the Internet at all, 44% are seniors — there’s a real need there. And on the other hand, 93% of teens use the Internet regularly — which presents a real opportunity. What if we could close a technological and generational gap at the same time?

I pitched the idea of a cross-generational digital literacy training program to the colleagues and students I work with at my nonprofit, Arts Tech. My colleagues were excited by the idea; after all, it fits right in with our mission to help urban teens develop technical skills. But I was really blown away by the excitement and enthusiasm our teens showed. Dozens of them said they’d want to participate in a program like this.

So we applied for, and received, a Digital Inclusion Fund grant — and today, 19 students from Hogan Academy are training to become intergenerational digital literacy experts. After students graduate from this program, they’ll be paired up with local seniors, to help them learn about the web in 1:1 or group training sessions.

This isn’t a walk in the park for these teens; we’ve pulled together a pretty rigorous 60-hour training program. Instead of sleeping in on Saturday mornings, students join us to learn about computer hardware, in-home networking, the Internet and computer software. They’re also learning how to work with seniors, and how to develop their very own digital literacy curriculum (like planning classes on how to create email addresses, and how to use social networks to connect with friends) that they’ll be able to teach by the end of the program.

My ultimate hope for this project is that its spirit of intergenerational learning spreads beyond our lab of laptops. Already, I’ve seen students, seniors and local partners pitch in to make this program happen. We all have a role to play, and working together I really believe that we can build a more digitally-inclusive community in which students, seniors and more are available to continually learn from each other.