OPINION: Weighing the potential effects of Google Fiber in Louisville


Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Sasank Vishnubhatla

Google announced its intentions to add Louisville as a new Google Fiber exploratory city on Sept. 10. Should Fiber be implemented, Louisville may have the chance to enjoy Internet speeds up to 20 times faster than the current rate. But what does this mean for the city?

All significant changes in infrastructure have their pros and cons, and Google Fiber is no different. Let’s start with some of the advantages.

Currently, most people who have cable are serviced by either Time Warner Cable or Comcast. With resentment growing towards these large corporations, Google Fiber could offer some necessary relief. As Time Magazine reported, TWC and Comcast have “high prices, poor reliability and declining customer service.” The addition of Fiber will force TWC and Comcast to rethink their current strategy regarding Internet service.

Furthermore, Fiber will provide the impetus for innovation in Louisville. With the development of local new technology startups stagnating in the recent years, Fiber has the potential to attract the entrepreneurial and tech-savvy. Though the influx may be small, it could catalyze growth in the long run.

It’s also worth considering, however, that Fiber may bring unforeseen negative outcomes to the city.

First, Internet piracy is likely to increase.  With an increase in Internet speed, it is likely that more people will start pirating. To put it simply, people will naturally want free data. With faster internet, everything–free or not–can be accessed much more quickly. Fiber means that pirated data will ultimately be more accessible. A recent study by Warner Bros. and Sony Entertainment (who admittedly have a stake in the outcome of such research) suggests that this phenomenon has already occurred in one of Google Fiber’s current expansions: Kansas City.

Fiber will also greatly affect Louisville’s economy. Basic macroeconomics suggest that an increase in technology–the addition of Google Fiber–will lead to increased production, in addition to higher demand for quality Internet service. This seems like a win-win, but there is a drawback: unemployment. In the long run, old guard providers will hopefully innovate or improve the quality of their services to compete with Google. But this comes at the expense of short term layoffs, as these companies currently don’t even come close to competing with Google’s superior product.

It is important to recognize that the increased Internet speeds advertised by Google Fiber may not fully live up to the community’s expectations due to increased traffic. Internet traffic refers effectively to how much data a group of people are using at a certain time. This matters because the Internet broadband is finite, and it slows with increased usage. Since Google Fiber (and the associated service improvements from other Internet providers) encourages more people to get online, our 20x faster access rate may slow to one that is only 5x faster than the status quo.

Google Fiber might be great for the city in the long run, but our community ought to be wary of some of the immediate effects of the expansion, which could include layoffs, a spike in piracy or even a strain on broadband. As Google moves into the design phase with city government, Louisville will soon see if and how Fiber will affect community infrastructure.