My column in the February issue of Texas Monthly looks at the battle between AT&T and Google to bring super fast Internet service to Austin. The showdown pits an old world telecom giant against an Internet darling, but this fight may not be quite what it seems.
In April, when Google announced that it had decided to bring its superfast Google Fiber Internet service to Austin, you could almost hear the city’s population toggle over to Facebook en masse and click “Like.” Two years earlier, after more than a thousand communities had entered the contest to be the first to get Fiber, the so-called Silicon Hills had lost out to, of all places, Kansas City, Missouri. So the announcement that Austin would receive Fiber in mid-2014—making it the third locale to get the one-gigabit-per-second service, after Kansas City and Provo, Utah—was welcome in the heavily wired tech mecca. Finally, this self-styled city of the twenty-first century was getting some love from the most iconic company of the twenty-first century. “This is the city that has SXSW Interactive and where Twitter blew up,” says Toni Grasso, an administrative manager in the Office of Programs and Partnerships at the Austin Public Library, which is slated to receive free Google Fiber. The service will help transform the library into “a library of the future,” she adds.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Austin-Google love fest. In October, AT&T—yes, Dallas-based AT&T, a.k.a. your granddaddy’s telecom company—an nounced it would beat Google to the punch by bringing its superfast GigaPower service to select Austin neighborhoods at the tail end of 2013.