Portland and a large swath of its Oregon suburbs are in the running for Google's next wave of investment in its hyper-fast Google Fiber Internet service, a competition that grabs headlines for those cities that can race ahead of the competition on the cyber highway.
But even if some portions of the Portland metropolitan area win Google's super-fast gigabit Internet service, Vancouver and Southwest Washington will be watching from the sidelines. Google has launched discussions with 34 cities in nine metropolitan areas, including Portland and its suburbs of Beaverton, Hillsboro, Gresham, Lake Oswego and Tigard. Portland is taking the lead on submitting the application to Google, and that application is headed to the Portland City Council for approval today. The service will not be available in all neighborhoods. .
A Google Fiber spokeswoman told The Columbian that Vancouver was not considered to be part of that proposed fiber network.
"We have a lot of work to do, and we had to draw a line somewhere," said Jenna Wandres, the Google Fiber spokeswoman. If Portland is selected, Google is not making any commitments about when the service might be extended north of the Columbia River, she said.
Google Fiber would offer speeds of 1,000 megabits per second — about 100 times faster than average speeds now available. That's possible because fiber-optic networks, until now typically used for long-distance data traffic, can carry high volumes of data at the pulse of light. Google isn't disclosing its costs for building the network.
Clark County economic development officials acknowledge disappointment, even while putting the best face on Google's slight of the county.
They point to the region's success in winning a state Department of Commerce designation last fall as an Innovation Partnership Zone, or IPZ, for portions of Vancouver and Camas, which is expected to be a draw for technology entrepreneurs and businesses. That designation gives the region additional leverage in seeking grant dollars to help pay for projects aimed at technology industries.
"Of course, we"re disappointed, but we do have our own efforts here," said Teresa Brumm, Vancouver's Economic Development Division manager. "We do what we can to support those efforts, and we do what we can to get those companies over here."
Kimberly Blake Pincheira, director of communications and strategic partnerships for the Columbia River Economic Development Council, said her organization made no contact with Google about the fiber initiative. Like Brumm, she noted local efforts to attract technology businesses are focused on developing the Innovation Partnership Zone.
One person unperturbed by Google's decision is Martin Flynn, regional marketing and public relations manager for CenturyLink, which is also developing fiber-based service for homes and businesses. The company recently rolled out the first Clark County offering of that service at Prestige Plaza, a newly developed apartment complex in downtown Vancouver.
Flynn, a Clark County resident, said Google is skilled at building hype for its products well before they are offered. CenturyLink plans to expand its fiber service in areas where demand is greatest, he said.
"Our strategy is very clear," Flynn said. "We're not really concerned with what Google is talking about. Whatever they decide to do is their choice. No one really knows."
Ken Hood, who in 2005 founded Vancouver-based ClearAccess, which he sold to Cisco in 2012, said Clark County isn't likely to feel any immediate impact from being left out of the Google Fiber network. The lack of hyper-speed Internet service wouldn't trigger a company to move to Portland or a Google Fiber suburb, he said, but it might be one factor in a new or growing company's decision to plant roots in one of those areas.
"It's just one more data point in the overall equation," said Hood, who now works for Cisco. While the data speed is astounding, most consumers and businesses won't be able to take full advantage of those speeds given constraints to getting those speeds to homes and offices, he noted.
Hood questions how many customers would be willing, at least initially, to pay for the service. Google hasn't discussed the potential cost to customers in Portland, but in Kansas City it charges $70 a month plus an additional $50 for high-definition cable television. But having Google Fiber would offer one big potential advantage: it would provide a competitor to Comcast, which is the only cable provider serving Clark County.
Hood notes that AT&T made major investments in its cable service in Austin, Texas, after Google announced plans to offer its fiber service there. And Jim Demmon, cable television manager for Vancouver and Clark County, said he'd welcome Google Fiber as a second cable provider.
If Google Fiber wants to come, "We're open and ready," Demmon said. "Competition is the one thing we've always wanted."
Google says it will evaluate the Portland area's application and attributes over the next seven months before deciding whether to proceed. If the Portland region is chosen, service could be available in 2015.