The Winner of Austin’s Gigabit Internet Wars Is Not Google or AT&T
Google and AT&T may be giants of the tech and communications industries, and their mutual investment in claiming the title of “first to bring gigabit Internet to Austin” may have had rippling effects in the city’s technology sector—but neither of them will actually receive that coveted distinction. Austin 360 reports that it’s actually the small, San Marcos-based Grande Communications that is responsible for Austin’s first fiber-optic network.
Grande is set to announce Monday that it will begin offering customers in parts of West Austin speeds of up to 1 gigabit this week.
That’s well ahead of AT&T’s and Google’s planned launches of high-speed service, which were both announced last year.
At 1 gigabit, a user could download 25 songs in 1 second, a TV show in 3 seconds and a high-definition movie in less than 36 seconds, according to data from AT&T.
Purchased by itself, Grande’s new Internet service will cost $65 per month with no contract required, Grande President Matt Murphy told the American-Statesman. The price will decrease when the Internet service is bundled with the company’s other offerings, such as cable TV and home phone service.
There’s something viscerally satisfying, if you’re the sort who roots for the underdog, to see a local company that provides services to a mere 75,000 Austin customers beat the biggest dogs in the world to the punch on something as crucial to the future of the city as high-speed fiber optic Internet networks. When Google Fiber announced last year that it would be coming to Austin as its second city, after its initial test run in Kansas City, CNN breathlessly reported on some of the potential applications:
At a brainstorming session in Kansas City last year, officials at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics discussed how a child on a home ventilator “might be able to avoid a trip to the hospital if he or she can be seen by a physician via video conference.” The same could also apply to home-bound or elderly patients, or others who face challenges with mobility, such as patients with Parkinson’s Disease.
Other possible uses include the ability to allow doctors to share large files, like high-resolution photos of the retina, which are used in annual eye scans for patients with diabetes. The same goes for large files used in heart and vascular imaging.
Most of the way these services are marketed, at least for now, is to highlight the speed with which users can download music and movies (legally, we’re sure), but the potential applications go well beyond that. That’s something that Google is especially aware of, and—as Loren Steffy reported in Texas Monthly this month—a reason to believe that they’re perhaps not too disappointed in the fact that Grande gets to claim the “first to gigabit” mantle.
What Google presumably wants is for other companies to spend a lot of money to provide faster Internet service. That way, Google will have a better platform for its web-based businesses (especially advertising), which is how it really makes its money. Google Fiber is likely intended to goad companies such as AT&T into stringing those wires.
Even if Grande is, ultimately, getting its strings pulled by the way Google has increased customer demand for the service, it’s refreshing to see a local company that can be responsive to customer needs and work nimbly pull off an upset like this.