Cyber Talk Radio: Google Fiber in San Antonio

Bret Piatt, CTR Host, and Clarissa Ramon, government and community affairs manager for Google Fiber - Episode 164 of Cyber Talk Radio

This past Saturday, November 16, episode 164 of Cyber Talk Radio hit the air on 1200 WOAI and iHeartRadio streaming. I sat down with Clarissa Ramon, government and community affairs manager for Google Fiber, to discuss the reasons that Google Fiber has chosen San Antonio to roll out its new internet service.

What exactly is Google Fiber? It’s an internet provider that is currently servicing parts of San Antonio. It’s a division of Alphabet, which is the parent company of Google. Google Fiber is separate from Google itself, and its mission is to improve internet access and equity around the United States. We touched on this topic a few episodes ago with Jordana Barton, who works at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’s San Antonio Branch. She looks at the economic impact of the digital divide in this city and the rest of Texas. Google Fiber’s been around since its initial 2011 launch in Kansas City, Missouri. Its founders felt a responsibility to improve the state of broadband internet access in the United States and decided to make their own service from scratch to bring it directly to residents. They held a request for proposals where Kansas City won the service’s first trial run. They learned a lot of good lessons in that process and came to San Antonio a few years later in 2015. They’re now operating in 11 markets, Austin and San Antonio being the only in Texas. What’s the rollout timing in San Antonio? They started construction in 2016 and then signed up the first customer in 2017. It’s been a slow moving process because of the infrastructure work needed — they’re building everything themselves, which is disruptive, expensive and complicated. The reason why this is so relevant is because around a third of the city’s households don’t have access to high speed internet, which is now a necessary utility in this economy and educational system, although it is often treated as a luxury good. The digital divide creates a challenge: figuring out strategies and collaborations to make this internet access happen for those who are struggling without it. The main things that are preventing people from accessing and using the internet are high cost, lack of devices and low computer/digital literacy. Google Fiber contributes internet services to the ConnectHome program that is part of the San Antonio Housing Authority. What’s next? We need a strategic plan for the city. Community partners and school districts need to give students devices to take home with them.

After the break, we dive into Clarissa’s career journey to Google Fiber. She’s from San Antonio, and majored in political science at St. Mary’s University after attending community college for two years. Clearly, she was not focused on the tech industry yet, and wanted to work in public policy. After college, she worked at a coffee shop that had computers for customers to use, which first ignited her interest in technology and access to the internet for everyone who needs it. She was accepted into a Latino fellowship in Washington D.C., where worked for Rep. Charlie Gonzalez and saw first hand how policy was made. When she came back to San Antonio, she worked at nonprofit called Public Knowledge, which is a consumer advocacy organization, where she advocated for communities and consumers in front of Congress and the Federal Communications Commission. That experience gave her a better knowledge of and bigger interest in the technology and telecom industry. She was approached by Google Fiber to be a candidate for her current position before they’d publicly confirmed interest in providing service in San Antonio. She encourages all students to consider a future in the technology industry, which is constantly growing. Bilingual students are especially at an advantage here — they know how to communicate well in two languages already and coding could be just one more language to learn; There is also a need for diverse perspectives in the industry. Before we end the episode, I make sure we discuss Libraries Without Borders’ new Wash and Learn Initiative (WALI) in the city. Laundromats are now being used as a platform to expand literacy and digital inclusion because they provide unique opportunities to help their patrons — they are open early and close later; doing laundry takes up a lot of time and creates a captive audience. They are currently providing digital kiosks in two laundromats on the city’s Westside, thanks to community partners San Antonio Public Library and Bexar County Bibliotech. This program is addressing multiple issues — the next step is to schedule programming partners and workshops to increase literacy, distribute census and voting information, healthcare resources, etc. for more information, go to the WALI website. Anyone who is interested in becoming a community partner should email sanantonio@librarieswithoutborders.us.

Listen to the full episode replay to learn more about Google Fiber’s presence in San Antonio and local community programming.

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