Google considering Triangle sites for high-speed network

Feb. 19, 2014 @ 05:33 PM

Google Inc. announced Wednesday that seven cities in the Triangle, including Durham and Chapel Hill, are in the running for a possible new fiber-optic network that would mean Internet speeds up to 100 times faster than basic broadband speeds.

The company invited 34 communities in nine metro areas in the United States to jointly explore “what it would take to build a new fiber-optic network,” according to information posted on the website

Durham was on the Triangle list along with Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Garner, Morrisville and Raleigh.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Casey Steinbacher, president and CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce. “I think it continues to send the message that the Triangle is a great place, and there’s incredible growth going on, and this is a community that values fiber, and understands its importance for every person that resides in this community.

“I can only speak for Durham, but I think (we’ll) step up to see what we need to do make it happen.”

Like Durham, many of the communities that made the list previously sought Google’s 1-gigabit ultra high-speed fiber-optic network in 2010.

In the spring of 2011, the company announced that the winning cities were Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo. In April of last year, Google added Austin, Tex., and Provo, Utah, to the list.

Durham was among the cities that submitted an application in 2010 for Google Fiber, but didn’t get the final bid.

The company is asking for information from the cities that made the list released Wednesday. Also, the company plans to study factors that would affect construction plans, including housing density and the condition of local infrastructure. The company hopes to announce the next round of cities that will get Google Fiber by the end of the year.

Google will consider many technical and legal details about the areas. It said on its website that it hopes to bring Google Fiber to every city on the list, but there are a few circumstances “that might make it tough and even impossible to build our Fiber network in a city.”

As part of what it’s asking from the cities, the company said it’s asking for information that can speed the planning and construction, like maps of poles, conduit, existing water, gas and electricity lines and for the cities to streamline processes such as permitting procedure and access to local infrastructure. 

“If a city doesn’t want to proceed with us and chooses not to complete their checklist, we won’t be able to bring them Google Fiber,” the website said. “There are also some physical characteristics of a city that might make it really complex for us to build Google Fiber. For example, underground construction might be really difficult due to bedrock or unusually hard soil. In these situations, we would share what we learned in our studies with city leaders and we hope they’d be able to use that information to explore other options for bringing super high speed broadband to their residents.”

The announcement was championed by a group of Triangle-area universities, towns and cities that already have been working to get a private company to build what they’re calling a “North Carolina Next Generation Network” here.

Last year, the Triangle Council of Governments issued a request for proposals for companies to build out an ultra-high speed network, and they got eight responses back. The companies that responded have not been name,d except for Time Warner Cable, which announced that it had submitted a formal bid.

The group said in a statement that Wednesday’s announcement validates the “pioneering and ongoing work communities” to try to bring a high-speed network here.

“Today’s announcement does not change our members’ commitment to participation in the NCNGN initiative, but instead offers one more layer of opportunity and competition that will help bring competitively priced access to gigabit internet speeds that would be 100 times faster than today’s basic speeds,” the group said in a statement.

Tracy Futhey, Duke University's vice president for information technology and chief information officer, is involved in the effort. She said the group’s process is still under way, and they won’t disclose more information until they’re finished. She said the move to put out a request for proposals last year was part of a recognition by the group that “gigabit fiber was a technology whose time we thought had come.”

“We want North Carolina and the regions we’re representing in the NCNGN project to be in the early days of receiving gigabit fiber … as opposed to several years down the road when it’s a commonplace activity,” she said. “We want to be on the forefront of the activity.”