Google Makes Its Austin Fiber Plans Official: Texas City Will Be Connected By Mid-2014

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Google has finally made it official: Austin will be the second city, after Kansas City, for Google Fiber, its high-speed broadband Gigabit internet and TV service. The news, made at an announcement in Austin just now, comes after three years of campaigning by the city. The aim is for the first homes in Austin to be connected by mid-2014.

Austin’s Mayor Lee Leffingwell (pictured) made the announcement.

“There is one particular resource we need that we’ve heard loud and clear that can help make our city more innovative and make it stronger,” he said. He is, of course, referring to high-speed internet, and the fact that Austin is already a major hub for technology, music, and education.

The service, which will compete against existing broadband and pay-TV providers, will “turbo charge our future,” in the words of Laura Morrison, a councilperson also speaking at the event.

“We’re here because speed matters,” Milo Medin, VP of Google Fiber, said at the event today, pinpointing that it’s not often the matter of speed of the software and services that companies like Google develop, but infrastructure that is to blame when things are slow. “It’s the foundation for future innovation on the web.” Medin also puts some of his thoughts down in an official Google Fiber blog post.

As Google did with residents of Kansas City, Austinites will have access to different tiers of service, including free internet-only Gigabit access, if they pay for installation.

Medin reiterated that Austin’s service will be rolled out in a similar fashion to Kansas City: residents in neighborhoods will sign up to request that Google build out in their neighborhoods; that will then be used to measure demand and decide which cities will be selected first to become “fiberhoods.” Google plans to link up schools, hospitals and other non-profit institutions free of charge as part of the process.

Austin’s campaign was a long and public one. “When we were originally choosing where to bring Fiber in 2010, Austin had one of the most enthusiastic responses,” Google notes on its Austin Fiber microsite, in answer to the question of why it chose Austin. It’s not clear whether Google gets any additional help by way of financing or anything else on the project, but it does note that it’s coming with support from all the top brass. “Austin city leaders have worked hard to make this possible, and we’re excited to be here.”

Stakeholders’ enthusiasm was really overflowing, judging by the number of leaks on the news over the last few days. First, there were reports from a local TV station about a Google event that would be held this week.

Then, Google gave the news a date with an event invite for 9am Austin time today sent out to locals.

Google then posted, and subsequently removed, a blog post (or marker for a blog post) that would be used to announce the news on its Fiber Blog.

Yesterday, yet another leak came and went, this time from the academic community that was getting involved.

In the meantime, while Google has remained mum on some of the investment specifics and longer term goals of this service, we are seeing more vocal observers estimating how much all this fiber business is going to cost the search giant.

A report published by analysts at the investment bank Bernstein yesterday noted that it would cost Google $11 billion if it decided to go for a medium-sized national rollout, covering 20 million people. That’s just for laying down infrastructure; the costs would go up by much more when marketing and then linking up homes and businesses to that network get factored in.

Although Bernstein raised the issue of whether this pricetag makes a national rollout unviable or at least less likely, it looks like Google’s efforts, such as these announced today in Austin, will be useful to the company regardless of what it decides to do elsewhere.

For starters, the evidence of public demand could serve to help push other service providers to build out high-speed services. It also helps Google collect lots of important data about how such networks are used and for what — crucial as the company continues to explore ways of expanding its existing routes to revenue growth.