Innovation

Google Fiber is finally set to announce its next city, but don't call it a comeback yet

Confirming our investigative report from February, Google Fiber is about to announce it's bringing the 2.0 version of gigabit internet to Louisville, Kentucky. Still, several big questions remain.

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Image: Google FIber

UPDATE: Google Fiber and the city of Louisville confirmed the news on Wednesday morning.

After being courted by the city of Louisville for more than four years, Google Fiber is about to officially become a dance partner.

According to multiple sources, as early as Wednesday the Silicon Valley giant will announce this week that it's going to roll out its gigabit broadband service to the Ohio River city that straddles the Midwest and South in the United States.

That's significant since the company has been searching for a direction since last fall when its CEO departed and new gigabit deployments went into a deep freeze. The Louisville announcement will be one of the first steps in a new direction.

Louisville is near a cluster of Southeastern cities—Nashville, Tennessee; Huntsville, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia; Research Triangle, North Carolina; and Charlotte, North Carolina—where Google Fiber has already been deployed or is in the process of rolling out gigabit internet.

However, Louisville is unique in that it will be the first city that will be built solely on Google Fiber's new infrastructure that uses wireless technology for the neighborhood connections to homes and businesses, as TechRepublic detailed in its investigative report in February.

Louisville is also central to Google Fiber because the city and Mayor Greg Fischer went to bat for Google Fiber with the "One Touch Make Ready" ordinance that would allow Google—and other internet providers—to access the infrastructure of competitors such as AT&T in order to roll out new services.

AT&T promptly sued, and the case has been tied up in court for over a year. On Tuesday, lawyers for the city and Google Fiber went toe-to-toe with AT&T litigators in U.S. District Court in Louisville. The legal battle has made Louisville ground zero in the war for greater broadband competition in America, as I talked about with NPR last year.

However, soon after Fischer put up a lot of political capital to take on the telecoms in 2016, the city got a private call from Google Fiber saying that it was going to have to change course in the way that it deployed gigabit fiber. The company assured the mayor that it was still committed to Louisville, but it was going to have to do the technology differently and it put a public announcement in Louisville on hold.

At that point, Louisville had invested a lot of time and resources into finding a set of public-owned properties spread across the city where Google Fiber could build its "fiber huts" that would serve 40,000 homes each. Google no longer need those. Instead, it was going to deploy wireless infrastructure, which would involve renting space on towers and buildings in a similar way to wireless phone carriers.

In the nine months since, Google Fiber has prepared to announce its roll out in Louisville at least a half dozen times, according to one source—including right before our investigative report published—only to pull the plug on the announcement at the last minute. Google Fiber promised the city of Louisville that it would have its "balloons and confetti moment" when the company rolled out trucks featuring the Google Fiber logo with the name of the city in primary colors.

Nevertheless, sources say the upcoming announcement in Louisville is likely to have little of the traditional fanfare. That will continue to raise doubts about how committed Google Fiber is in spreading gigabit internet across the US, and how confident it is in the new wireless infrastructure. If Google Fiber is trying to fly under the radar then it's likely the company wants to avoid raising expectations in case it can't deliver in Louisville. Or, at the very least, it wants to underpromise and overdeliver.

It's also possible that Google Fiber could delay its Louisville announcement yet again. If it does, the questions about the future of the gigabit service will cut even deeper.

We reached out to the city of Louisville and the mayor's office but they declined to comment for this story.

A Google spokesperson said, "We remain committed to bringing Google Fiber to Louisville and are excited about the future. We've made great progress and we will have more details to share soon as we continue to work with the Mayor's office to find innovative new ways to deploy superfast internet."

Along with the fate of Google Fiber's progress in Louisville hangs not only the economic development of one city, but potentially the future of broadband competition in the US. You can see that in the inconsistent efforts AT&T has made despite big fiber promises (see our February article for more details). So, keep a close eye on what happens in Louisville.

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About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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