‘Fiberhoods’ coming to Atlanta

“Atlanta has always been a hub. What started with trains and evolved to planes will now become a hub for the 21st century economy.” – Google Fiber’s Director of Marketing Scott Levitan



Atlanta could soon be one of the fastest internet provider cities in the world with the help of Google Fiber’s internet services, according to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed during a Jan. 27 press conference.Google Fiber will offer gigabit speeds directly to people’s homes whereas other fiber-optic services only offer comparable speeds commercially, according to Google’s information page.

Reed and a panel of Google executives said during the conference that the fiber optic network will also offer service to areas neighboring Atlanta.

“In addition to coming to Atlanta, Google [Fiber] will be coming to Avondale Estates, Brookhaven, College Park, Decatur, East Point, Hapeville, Sandy Springs and Smyrna,” he said.

Google Fiber’s impact on campus

Georgia State’s Chief Innovation Officer Phil Ventimiglia said Google’s fiber optic network will usher in simpler connectivity for students and professionals in and around Atlanta.

The connectivity would allow for additional innovative delivery of course materials and easier access to academic resources, according to Ventimiglia.

Ventimiglia said Google Fiber’s advertised gigabit speeds will facilitate network interaction for university students and staff.

“Access to faster Internet infrastructure will allow students, faculty and staff to interact and collaborate more easily when they are away from campus,” he said.

However, Georgia State will not yet subscribe to Google Fiber gigabit access because the service currently caters more towards homes and small businesses, according to Ventimiglia.

“We’re talking with Google to stay aware of Google Fiber developments, and [we] are very excited about it’s possible effects on home and small business connectivity,” he said. “However, because Google Fiber is a consumer-focused offering that is targeted at residential communities, it won’t directly affect how the network is provided on Georgia State University’s campus.”

Comparing internet speeds

Georgia State already runs on similar more research-oriented network of similar strength, according to Ventimiglia.

“We currently provide speeds comparable to those advertised for Google Fiber to computers plugged directly into the campus network via ethernet cable,”  he said.

Ventimiglia also said research institutes use certain Internet2 networks for research that surpasses Google Fiber’s data transfer speeds.

“As a research institution and member of Internet2, we have the ability to provide speeds of up to 10 times the speeds offered by Google Fiber for specialized research connections between institutions,” he said.

Cassie Wilcox, Georgia State’s assistant director of marketing and communications, said the connection speeds of Internet2 has expanded since Georgia State’s membership with the network.

“We’ve been a member of Internet2 for some time, but the connection for research purposes was expanded to 10 Gbps in the last couple years,” she said.

Internet2 is a service provider which connects hundreds of universities and research institutes across the country via fiber optic cable, according to Wilcox.

The evolving hub

Google Fiber’s Director of Marketing Scott Levitan said Atlanta was chosen because of the strong community foundation supporting its cities.

“Atlanta has always been a hub. What started with trains and evolved to planes will now become a hub for the 21st century economy,” Levitan said in a statement sent to The Signal. “This diverse, entrepreneurial, and tech-friendly region is the ideal place to show what’s possible with gigabit speeds. We’re excited to see what Metro Atlanta does with Google Fiber.”

Tom Lowry, director of technology at Google Atlanta, said at the conference that he is glad Mayor Reed is enthusiastic in the pursuit of making Atlanta a more digital city.

“He shares our deep commitment to strengthen Atlanta as a technology hub,” he said.

This development will invite entrepreneurs and innovators to introduce and develop their ideas in Atlanta, according to Reed during the conference.

“We want the metropolitan Atlanta region to be a place where people bring and build their dreams. Google Fiber is the infrastructure for the next generation of dreams. It’s the twenty-first century version of the railroad,” he said.

Tino Mantella, president and chief executive officer of the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) said Google Fiber will change the city greatly and ultimately benefit its inhabitants.

“[Google Fiber] will have a profound impact on how we live, play, and work. Internet speed is a game-changer. It blows open doors that have remained shut,” he said during the conference.

The hub and higher education

Mantella said high speed internet is a commodity and Google Fiber will be a useful resource for higher education.

“In order to keep the pace with future demand, we must have enough bandwidth necessary to support our increasingly hi-tech lives,” he said.

Reed said during the conference that Google’s neighborhood networks will accommodate those needs.

“We need to set up everyone of our residents for success in this connected world. We’re going to call it a Fiberhood,” he said

Reed also said he hopes these technological advancements will welcome a new wave of attention from technology students in the Atlanta area.

“I have made a commitment to work with leaders from the private and educational sectors to keep more of our technology graduates in the city of Atlanta after they earn their degrees,” he said.

The fastest in the world

Reed said Google Fiber will yield Atlanta residents internet speeds comparable to those of Seoul, Tokyo or Zurich during the conference.

“Google Fiber will help put Atlanta on par with the fastest cities in the world,” he said.

Law and Society student Miranda Mendicino said she believes Google Fiber is a “win-win” for the people of Atlanta.

“[Google Fiber] would bring some of the world’s fastest internet speeds to our busy city. This would be monumental because the United States is really lagging behind in Internet speed compared to other countries,” she said.

Noah Lee, a respiratory therapy student, said he frequently hears complaints about other ISPs and he thinks Google Fiber may solve slow internet issues as well as stimulate the city’s economy.

“[Google Fiber] will make the Atlanta area more of a central hub than it already is. We could see an exponential growth in a number of businesses in and around Atlanta,” he said.

Mendicino said she does not anticipate any drawbacks to come from Fiber’s development.

“Google Fiber could bring affordable internet to thousands of people who would have never been able to afford home internet access before, and I do not see how anyone could be against that,” she said.

Psychology student Claire McGrath said she hears that the construction of the network may be invasive to Atlanta commuters but she thinks the impact will be insignificant.

“Construction is constantly ongoing in Atlanta,” she said. “[Though] I’m sure it’ll increase traffic some, I’m confident that it won’t affect an Atlantan’s commute as much as people believe.”

Chattanooga, Tennessee witnessed overwhelming support for the installation of their fiber optic network, according to Public Relations Coordinator of EPB (formerly Electric Power Board of Chattanooga) John Pless.

Pless said EPB delivers fiber optic internet service to over 70,000 customers in Chattanooga and the U.S. Department of Energy found an interest in the company’s plans to construct a city-wide fiber network.

“They caught wind of our project through some of the vendors that supply our equipment because it was a pretty extensive build,” he said.

The attention combined with the economic climate set the stage for the fiber network’s success, according to Pless.

“At the time this [planning] was going on, the great recession of 2008 hit and the [Dept. of Energy] administration had announced stimulus grants for public infrastructure projects throughout the country,” he said. “The country was bleeding about 700,000 jobs a month for a while so it was an effort to create programs that would create jobs.”

The Department of Energy granted the EPB $111 million to expedite the construction and installation, according to Pless.

“The plan was to build up a system over a number of years, but with that grant, it accelerated our plans and we were able to complete the project within three years where we were previously looking at five to 10 years,” he said.

However, he also said he experienced resistance during the production of Chattanooga’s network from the competing service providers.

“Some of the cable and telecom providers who were pretty much the only providers in the market had filed several lawsuits attempting to block the project,” Pless said. “The idea was that there would be another player in the market providing communication and at that point the lawsuits followed.”

Comcast tried to balk the project but had no viable case for a lawsuit, according to Pless.

“They made arguments that just couldn’t hold up in court,” he said.

Pless also said the competitors would manipulate statistics in order to claim superiority over the competition.

“There are a few other providers who are making claims that they have the fastest internet. The only thing that we ask is that you compare the actual speeds. We offer 100 Mbps up to one Gbps.”

Big internet providers

Alex Horwitz, vice president of public relations for Comcast’s big south region said the company serves the fastest internet to the most homes in the country.

“Today in Atlanta, we already offer residential speeds of up to 505 Mbps and we offer Comcast Business customers 10 Gbps,” he said.

Although the residential speeds offered by Comcast now are roughly half those of Google Fiber or EPB, Horwitz said he was confident in Comcast’s plans to stay competitive in the internet service market.

“We are excited about the prospect of delivering gig speeds to residential customers using a technology known as DOCSIS 3.1,” he said. “We plan to test it as soon as later this year. With it, we will be able to deliver 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) speeds to more homes than any other ISP in America.”

Horwitz also said Comcast is not unfamiliar with fiber-optic technology.

“Our network is highly scalable and flexible and uses both fiber and coax to deliver Internet services to consumers,” he said. “We were actually one of the first ISPs to demonstrate a 1 Gbps connection.”

The leader of the technology race in Atlanta remains to be seen as the installation of Google Fiber will take a few years of neighborhood-by-neighborhood implementation, according to a statement sent by the mayor’s office to The Signal.