Google considering Louisville for super-fast fiber Internet service

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Google is reportedly rethinking plans to spend millions of dollars running fiber-optic cables to homes for super-fast Internet and TV connections – a move that could affect the service’s expansion into Louisville.

Instead, search engine giant will experiment with less costly, less-labor-intensive wireless technology in the 12 metro areas it plans to enter in the next few years, according to a report in Wall Street Journal.

Google did not immediately respond to an inquiry from WDRB News.

Ted Smith, Louisville Metro government’s point-person on the Google Fiber project, said Monday that Google is still gathering information on the Louisville market before committing to bring its service to the area. 

"There has not really been any other discussion other than all the things needed for them to make a decision," Smith said.

He added that the city has not been told of any changes in Google's plans.

The Journal article does not specifically name Louisville as a city where Google is rethinking its fiber-to-the-home network, but the publication says the 12 metro areas where Google has said it hopes to expand will now become “the test bed for a push into wireless technology.”

Louisville is among those “potential expansion cities,” according to Google Fiber’s website.

In June, Google Fiber said it would buy Webpass, a San Francisco company that provides super-fast Gigabit Internet connections to apartment buildings using wireless antennae.

In an effort to pave the way for Google, the Louisville Metro Council earlier this year passed an ordinance that would allow new broadband providers to rearrange the equipment of existing providers like AT&T and Time Warner Cable on utility poles as needed.

Metro government is now defending that ordinance against a lawsuit by AT&T, which alleges that the city-county government over-reached into matters governed by the state and the Federal Communications Commission.

The Journal article published Sunday follows a report last week by the San Jose Mercury News that Google Fiber had indefinitely delayed its roll-out in the San Jose area -- which, like Louisville, is among the dozen Google Fiber “expansion cities.”

The Mercury News quoted a “source familiar with the project” who said that Google “is putting additional fiber locations on the back burner to reassess the technology and explore a cheaper alternative -- wireless service that does not require expensive, capital-intensive and time-consuming installation of fiber cables under the ground.”

In July, Google Fiber also surprisingly delayed its build-out in Portland, Oregon, according to The Oregonian.

Smith, Louisville Metro's chief of civic innovation, said he is aware of reports that Google is looking at substituting wireless technology for wired connections into homes.  

"It is my sense they are constantly looking at the best and fastest deployment approaches that they can use," he said. "...At the end of the day, any company that is considering investing that much capital into infrastructure is going to be constantly looking for the best ROI (return on investment) scenarios."

Meanwhile, AT&T is bringing its GigaPower service – which also offers a direct fiber connection – to some residential areas of Louisville.

AT&T officials have been unable to say which neighborhoods are being connected, nor how many customers have access to GigaPower.

WDRB reported in March that AT&T notified two Jeffersontown-area subdivisions – Silver Oaks and Landherr Estates – that the company would be working in the rights of way, including some digging, to install fiber-optic lines for the GigaPower service.

“We’ve begun initial availability of AT&T GigaPower for homes, apartments and small business customers in response to growing consumer demand in the Louisville area, and we are excited to see what Louisvillians can do with this robust connectivity,” AT&T spokeswoman Cathy Lewandowski said in an email Monday.

“Earlier this summer we began making internet speeds up to 1 gigabit per second available to some locations in the Louisville area.  As the new high-speed internet service is or becomes available, we’re contacting residents and small businesses at eligible locations directly to make sure they are aware they can sign up for faster speeds up to 1 gigabit per second today.”

Smith said a wireless deployment of Google Fiber would still be a victory for the city, which for years has tried attract more broadband providers and better connectivity.

"Any investment in our community is in line with our goals," Smith said. 

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