Tampa officials see Google Fiber’s potential for tech startups


November 9, 2015



 
 
Jerome R. Stockfisch | Tampa Tribune/TBO.com
 
When Google announced that the Spring Valley neighborhood of Kansas City would be the first in the nation wired with ultra-fast Google Fiber Internet service, a funny thing happened to the quiet enclave of homes and antique shops.
 
Matthew Marcus, an entrepreneur living in Boulder, Colo., moved back into the house he inherited from his mother to continue his startup work in Kansas City. Three startups moved into the house across the street. A few houses away, a techie launched “Homes for Hackers,” offering three months of rent-free housing to entrepreneurs that move to the city.
 
“We were just pumping along with startup activity,” said Marcus, who created the 1 Minute Candidate campaign channel. “One of the guys emailed the rest of us, ‘Something cool is happening here.’ ”
 
Soon there were 15 properties hosting 35 startups within a one-mile radius straddling the Kansas-Missouri border.
 
When Google’s Brien Bell visited the University of Tampa in October to announce that this city would be considered for one of the Google Fiber systems, he said “great things can happen” with the community upgrade. He may have been referring to that Kansas City neighborhood, now known as Kansas City Startup Village, which has hatched companies such as Idle Smart, an automated start-stop engine control system for truck fleets; TravelingNuker.com, a scheduling and hiring database matching skilled tradesmen with nuclear plant construction projects; and Eventr.io, a platform for conducting commerce in the trade show industry.
 
“So much has spawned just from the fact that Google Fiber came here,” said Marcus, a co-leader of the startup village. “It’s been amazing. We’re so supportive of one another and it’s a very collaborative place to be. It’s just kind of a fun, hip little place to be.”
 
# # #
 
Google Fiber would bring 1 gigabit-per-second Internet speeds to Tampa. That’s 100 times faster than the average residential Internet connection.
 
On its website, fiber.google.com, the company demonstrates the difference by displaying the time it takes to download 100 photos. The bar representing Google Fiber zips along, downloading the photos in three seconds. The one representing the average 10 megabit connection crawls, requiring 4 minutes and 40 seconds for the same task.
 
“Most people wouldn’t need gigabit speeds,” said Kristopher Willis, a systems engineer at the Florida Center for Cybersecurity at the University of South Florida and head of the school’s Whitehatters Computer Security Club. “But what it would allow you to do, you could have more people in your household streaming Netflix, streaming Hulu, playing games on the Internet, and doing intense tasks, and you can do a lot more of that at one time.”
 
Tech product reviewer and news site CNET notes that it takes a connection of about 3 megabits per second to be able to download a single DVD-quality Netflix movie. That bumps up to 5 megabits for high-definition.
 
Google Fiber’s 1 gigabit per second speed — 1,000 megabits — would allow someone to stream at least five HD videos at the same time and still have plenty of bandwidth to surf the web, check email, and upload pictures to Facebook, according to CNET. That single HD movie would take about 33 seconds to download.
 
“It’s so fast,” said Eric Schaumberg, who runs the Eventr.io trade show business in Kansas City. “It’s ridiculous. It’s all about how fast you can push upgrades, how fast you can push fixes, how fast you can stream video.”
 
A Google spokeswoman said industries from remote healthcare to real-time emergency response to film and media production to genomics have already benefited from gigabit speeds.
 
In addition to Kansas City, Google wired Provo, Utah and Austin, Texas in its first round of hookups.
 
Atlanta, San Antonio, Nashville, Tenn., and Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte, N.C. are next. On Oct. 28, Google announced it would work with Jacksonville, Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Tampa on the potential to provide Google Fiber.
 
An added benefit of the appearance of Google Fiber appears to be what the website Consumerist called a “path that Google seems to be carving nationwide”: improved service and price parity as competition heats up. In Austin, Kansas City, and already in Charlotte, entrenched cable providers have upped speeds and lowered prices to keep pace.
 
The Tampa Bay area’s major Internet players, Verizon and Bright House, declined to comment on Google’s potential move into Tampa. Both offer special packages that provide higher-speed Internet access, but not at speeds matching Google Fiber’s.
 
Meanwhile, a study commissioned by the trade group Fiber to the Home Council Americas concluded that access to fiber-optic broadband can increase a home’s value by up to 3.1 percent.
 
# # #
 
All that speed is impressive, but it’s the evolution of that single Kansas City neighborhood that has economic development professionals salivating.
 
“I think you’re going to see a lot of those types of situations as a result of Google Fiber being available,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “The access to one gigabit of capacity for entrepreneurs, in particular, is a game-changer. I think this has the potential to really put Tampa on the map as a city that not only celebrates and encourages entrepreneurship, but has the infrastructure to allow them to do what they do. In their world, speed matters.”
 
This year, Forbes magazine put Provo at No. 4 on its list of best places for business and careers. The New Yorker called Utah “the next Silicon Valley.”
 
Austin recently unseated the real Silicon Valley as the No. 1 U.S. city for startups, according to the Kauffman Foundation, and is widely recognized on “coolest cities” lists.
 
“Google Fiber will amplify our attractiveness to tech companies, entrepreneurs, and professionals who want access to innovative technology and services,” said J.P. DuBuque, interim president of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. “Other communities with Google Fiber … have benefited by attracting businesses, as well as millennial talent, to their community. Companies already located here in the film and digital media, life sciences, and financial and professional services industries will benefit from the faster download speeds.”
 
It’s far from a done deal. A Google spokeswoman said there are a number of factors that can influence when the company can move forward with building a fiber network in a city, from things like the ability to use existing infrastructure such as local utility poles to the topography of an area. There are also unique considerations at the city and state level, such as planning and permitting, that determine how quickly Google can move and whether it decides to bring Google Fiber to a city.
 
Tampa officials held an introductory meeting this week with Google representatives.
 
“My sense is they scouted us pretty thoroughly. They wouldn’t have even let us be considered had we not met even the fundamentals, but the devil is in the details,” said Buckhorn. “We are prepared to do whatever we have to do to be successful and to facilitate the deployment of this. I think they’re going to find us to be a good partner.”
 
jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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