The downsides of a gig: what other towns have learned after getting a gig

If you are even remotely interested in broadband, then you’re aware that Google Fiber is coming to Austin. I’ve confirmed it, local Austin news has confirmed it, a gigabit-touting organization has confirmed it, and Google may even have inadvertently confirmed it. It’s happening. Now the big questions are about the details. We’ll find that out tomorrow at the 11 a.m. CT press conference.

But after the city and Google answer the questions about where they plan to expand, if they will employ the same tactics as it did in Kansas City and other key details, here are a few ways concerned citizens and business leaders can pry a little deeper under the surface. Getting a gig is great, but as Kansas City and other gigabit towns can tell you, there’s a big learning curve.

As Google even pointed out during its launch in Kansas City, equipment and event services such as weren’t ready to support gigabit connections. Now Ookla, which runs, can support a gig, but devices like laptops that don’t support 802.11a/c standards might not. Mike Farmer, the CEO of Leap2, a Kansas City, Kan., startup that has a gig, says that his current MacBook is a bottleneck because, unless he hard-wires it, it can’t support a gig.

Is there anybody out there?

Mike Farmer of Leap2 praising the Google Fiber box.
Mike Farmer of Leap2 praising the Google Fiber box.
But he has a bigger problem as well. “I can watch seven simultaneous YouTube streams in 1080p high-def and Netflix, while still having 750 Mbps left over,” he told me. When I asked what he does with the remaining 750 Mbps, there is silence. And that’s one of the downsides.

The great thing about having a broadband connection is you are connected with billions of people around the world. But if you start building out gigabit-ready applications, or even applications that require 100 Mbps, you’re going to shrink your audience. The Fiber to the Home Council recently estimated that there are more than 640,000 North American households now receiving 100 Mbps service through a FTTH network. I’ve covered this before, but it bears repeating as Google plans to bring its gigabit service to Austin.

As Farmer says, “We have a car that goes 500 mph, but there’s only one road.” But Farmer and people in Chattanooga, Tenn. which is home to another gigabit network, have gotten together to discuss their plight and are planning to create a virtual co-working space using an always-on high-definition camera between their offices.

Farmer is part of a group of Kansas City startups renting a home in a residential area so they can play with Google Fiber. Venture capitalist Brad Feld bought a house in KC and set up an incubator program there too. However, the flip side of the entrepreneurial enthusiasm around Google Fiber is that others in town aren’t prepared for a gigabit connection.

How to handle the gigabit in civic institutions? Deacon, managing director at the KC Digital Drive, told me that schools, for example, are trying to understand and find money for the gear they would need to support a gigabit. He explained that Google provides a gigabit drop to the school, so then the question of how to deploy that technology throughout the build or buildings is left up to the administrators. Do they just provide a computer lab where the termination point is and hope for the best, or do they invest in gigabit capable Wi-Fi access points?

These issues, from a lack of know-how to an inability to brainstorm applications, is the reason that U.S. Ignite was founded almost a year ago. the program aims to teach people what to do with a gigabit connection. The first lesson? It’s not just about speed. Jake Brewer, a spokesman with U.S. Ignite, says speed is only one aspect. Another is about giving neighborhoods the ability to control their broadband destiny.

What does a gigabit app even look like?

For example, the three things Ignite wants people thinking about is speed (upload and download), the local cloud and software-defined networking. Much like the deeply nerdy SDN stuff happening inside data centers, Brewer wants to add programmability and intelligence to the wide-area network. Advantages of this are many, from being able to easily reroute traffic on congested routes to being able to allocate network resources to a specific application to guarantee high-quality service.

As for that local cloud, it may be as simple as storing data closer to the end users or as complicated as creating a town that can harness its compute to double as a data center. For a list of awesome gigabit applications that Brewer and Ignite have helped devise, check out their post from last week.

And there’s the “downside” of getting a gig. Once you have it, the real work begins.