November 3, 2014 Brian Kelsey

Economic Impact of Google Fiber

This story was written by Brian Gaar and appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on November 2, 2014.

Austin business leaders: Google Fiber can’t get here soon enough

Google Fiber hasn’t officially arrived in Austin yet, but local business and technology leaders say the ultrafast Internet service will be a game-changer when it debuts here next month.

While Google has only announced its residential service and hasn’t yet given details about commercial availability, business leaders and entrepreneurs say the prospect of 1 gigabit-per-second Internet speeds will enhance Austin’s reputation as a tech hub and spark new innovations. The service is more than 100 times faster than today’s typical broadband Internet access.

“I think it’s going to be awesome,” said William “Whurley” Hurley, an Austin entrepreneur who co-founded mobile developer Chaotic Moon and is planning to launch another startup next year. “It’s going to be revolutionary for a lot of businesses that I don’t think see it as that now, but it will be.”

Hurley, who is no longer with Chaotic Moon, predicted residents will flock to areas of Austin where Google Fiber is rolling out first. Google recently announced that parts of South and Southeast Austin will be the first to get the new service starting in December.

Part of the allure is reducing the time that many tech businesses spend uploading — and downloading — data to the cloud, for such operations as data processing.

That represents a lot of downtime, Hurley said.

“Speed is part of the new business formula,” he said. “You have to be able to work fast, and speed becomes an advantage.”

With only a handful of other cities in the queue for Google Fiber at this time, Austin will have a huge advantage over most of the country with the increased Internet speeds, said Manny Flores, CEO of Austin advertising firm LatinWorks.

“Austin will be able to work harder and faster, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results,” Flores said.

Advertising in particular is a fast-paced business, he said, with clients looking to push boundaries and outpace their competition. Internally, there’s also the need to be more efficient in the way that LatinWorks conducts business on a daily basis, he said.

“Faster Internet speeds will allow us to communicate seamlessly across departments and with our clients,” Flores said. “Our increased ability to download and process big data will allow for more efficient optimizations across all of our digital campaigns, as well as a more efficient work flow for our creative teams who are constantly downloading and working with large files.”

Gary Gattis, CEO of Austin gaming studio Spacetime Studios, said he’d love to be wired with Google Fiber at home and at work.

“We transmit a huge amount of data whenever we work from home,” he said. “Google Fiber would make it much more manageable.”

Faster Internet service has proven to be a lure for fledgling businesses in other communities where Google Fiber has landed. In Kansas City, where Google Fiber first launched, startups sprouted in a number of neighborhoods. The movement has dubbed the “Silicon Prairie.”

The advantage for startups is simple: A faster Internet pipe makes it easier to handle large files and eliminates buffering problems that plague online video, live conferencing or other network-intensive tasks.

Infrastructure of that caliber has certainly been an asset for other communities’ business attraction and retention efforts, said Brian Kelsey, principal of Civic Analytics, an Austin-based economic development firm.

He pointed to Chattanooga, Tenn., which is running a municipally owned fiber-optic network “that has really improved their position among peer communities.”

Chattanooga’s taxpayer-owned network has indeed sparked growth.

Former factory buildings on its Main Street and Warehouse Row on Market Street have been converted to loft apartments, open-space offices, restaurants and shops. The city has welcomed a new population of computer programmers, entrepreneurs and investors.

“It created a catalytic moment here,” said Sheldon Grizzle, founder of the Company Lab, which helps startups refine their ideas and bring their products to market. “The Gig,” as Chattanooga’s fiber-optic network is known, “allowed us to attract capital and talent into this community that never would have been here otherwise.”

Another benefit, business owners point out, is that Google’s entrance into the Austin market has prompted other providers, including AT&T and Time Warner, to roll out faster Internet speeds on their Austin networks.

“Competition is a beautiful thing, and all of us benefit from it when it’s allowed to happen in the marketplace,” said David Kaelin, who owns the Austin-based retro gaming chain Game Over Videogames.

Austin-area business owners also say faster Internet service leads to innovations that weren’t possible with slower connections. Just as broadband connections made Internet video and online gaming more accessible to the masses, gigabit Internet will likely prompt another round of innovation.

Hurley said the faster Internet speeds will enable a whole host of new ideas and services. Tech incubators at the University of Texas and Capital Factory will benefit to a huge degree, he said.

“I think it’s really going to take things to a whole new level and allow for a whole new set of ideas,” he said.

In the advertising realm, more and more of the industry is shifting to digital, and Flores said he’s looking forward to seeing how the landscape will continue to evolve.

“We’ve seen so many great new technologies and offerings arise over the past few years and can’t wait for what comes next,” he said.

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