“Google Fiber is coming to San Antonio,” has been an oft-repeated phrase for more than two years.
During that two years, the gigabit-speed internet provider has been forced to remove infrastructure from a north side park in a public dust-up with surrounding residents and was forced by the city to temporarily freeze construction of its fiber optic network.
Google Fiber scaled back its ambitious national expansion, eliminating several possible cities along with a leadership shakeup and resignation of its top guy.
But, Google Fiber finally arrived in San Antonio Tuesday.
“It’s an exciting day for us to finally be able to provide service here to this market,” Google Fiber City Manager for San Antonio Tyler Wallis said.
Wallis said, despite all its challenges, the company is rolling out service in a time comparable with the other 11 Google Fiber cities.
“It’s a huge undertaking to build the network from scratch,” he said. “Most of the other players in this industry are typically upgrading existing network infrastructure.”
Thousands of residents in Westover Hills and those surrounding its hub at West End Park on the city’s near West Side can sign up internet speeds 100 times faster than most offerings. West End Park is currently has the only Google Hut operating in San Antonio.
The company will still have to build each house that wants service. Wallis said they have teams standing by, so someone could get same day or same week connection. Wait times for service could be as long as a couple of months as demand grows, he said.
The price for service will be significantly cheaper in San Antonio than any other Google Fiber city as well, with rates starting at $55 dollars a month — $15 less than anywhere else.
After the sign-up period stops for these original neighborhoods on Dec. 21, Wallis said Google Fiber will continue building out to new neighborhoods early next year and will continue expanding service every couple of months.
Wallis said there will be a number of public “Surprise and Delight” events throughout San Antonio communities Tuesday.
“That community has been incredibly wonderful to partner with,” Google Fiber’s Clarissa Ramon said of West End Park neighbors. “I think they recognized right off the bat the value of having a company coming in and placing this type of infrastructure and what that meant to community members who were underserved from the digital perspective.”
West End Park in Prospect Hill is a low-income neighborhood on the northwest edge of downtown. The neighborhood was included in the city’s gunshot abatement technology Shotspotter early this year.
While $55 a month might seem like a lot of money, Jason Mata — who is active with the neighborhood association and helps run “The Advocates” nonprofit boxing program — said the benefits of Google Fiber outweigh the cost.
“I have a modest income and I will take advantage,” Mata said. “Somehow people find ways to pay for it. I hate to say it, but it has become a necessity.”
The neighborhood as a whole will benefit said Jordana Barton with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas' San Antonio office.
"Certainly small businesses in that area will be able to be more efficient, and students will be on an equal playing field for homework that they may not have been on before," said Barton.
Barton is also a member of San Antonio's Digital Inclusion Alliance, a group of businesses and individuals interested in increasing access to low and moderate income families. They provide digital literacy training, as well as advocate for more digital infrastructure.
She said the alliance is going to be interested in ensuring the success of the roll out in Prospect Hill.
"There are ways we could support that neighborhood," she said. She noted several ways they could partner with the neighborhood association including educating neighbors on how to take advantage of federal programs like the Universal Service Program, that can provide funds for affordability.
Google Fiber removed its first infrastructure hut in Haskin Park, a small park on the city’s North East side, after complaints from neighbors. Originally the company planned 17 huts across the city, but disputes over the size of its huts, placement and infrastructure breaks caused the city to ask Google Fiber to go back to the drawing board. Wallis said now they will have significantly fewer huts, but declined to say just how many that would be.
Google's Tyler Wallis added the company’s use of shallow trenching has made work easier and quicker because it’s closer to the surface and no longer has to worry about water, sewer and other infrastructure conflicts.
“All of the area over in the Westover Hills part of town was shallow trenched. That is the technology — or the approach — we see going forward,” Wallis said.
Google doesn't know exactly how long it will take to complete their network in San Antonio, said Wallis. And since the company was asked to redesign its network it is unclear just how many people it will offer access to down the line.