On March 2, 2010, CNN reported a peculiar story about a sudden change in a small, midwestern city. Topeka had temporarily renamed itself “Google, Kansas”.


But it didn’t stop there.


In fact, Kansas was just the first domino to fall in a wave of Googlemania that swept American towns and cities that year. The already oddly named city of Rancho Cucamonga, California, made a push to become Rancho Googlemonga. The city of Columbia, Missouri, turned a Google-sign-waving flash mob loose at a University of Missouri basketball game. The mayor of Duluth, Minnesota, jumped into a freezing Lake Superior in February to prove to Google that his citizens needed a faster way to google the definition for “hypothermia”.


Every mayor in America, it seemed, wanted Google to pick their city — but for what?


google fiber


Google Fiber is the ubiquitous search giant’s first foray into the broadband and television market. For those of us who use the Internet or watch TV, Google Fiber is a dream. With 1,000 mpbs download speeds, Fiber is 100 times faster than current broadband. Huge fiber-optic bandwidth makes even hefty downloads instantaneous, gives HDTV unrivaled clarity and opens up a world of cloud options — from gaming to teleconferencing — for the average person.


With Fiber TV comes an unheard of two terabytes of program storage on a cutting-edge DVR, as well as a free terabyte of storage on Google Drive, a tablet for a remote control and powerful wifi — all for about $120 a month, $70 if you only want Internet. Any city that gets wired for Google Fiber — and its extraordinary web of above-and-below-ground fiber-optic infrastructure — has service beamed to its schools and public libraries for free. Oh, and if anyone likes their current, measly 5 mbps Internet, they can pay Google 300 bucks and keep it for seven years — for free.


When Google announced in 2010 that it would pick a trial city to launch its Fiber campaign, cities across the country started peacocking and readying their nests to be the lucky first. The winner was not Topeka, Kansas, but Kansas City, Missouri. Fast forward to 2014, and three American cities (Provo, Utah and Austin, Texas, being the other two) are now in the process of being wired for Fiber. This is a transformation that entails a maze of preparation, including the leasing of telephone poles from both governmental and private entities, and striking right-of-way deals with utilities for underground piping. For the residents of a Fiber city, broadband life is good — but it’s not just residents who stand to benefit anymore.


google fiber


In order to understand Google Fiber’s potential impact on the world of entrepreneurial tech start-ups, it’s important to first understand the geographical realignment that took place in the last decade.


The traditional suburban tech hubs — epitomized by California’s Silicon Valley — sprung up after a one-two punch that was the backbone of the digital revolution: tech startups and the venture-capital funding that made them possible. Venture capitalists give startup money to promising companies in exchange for partial ownership and a say in how the company moves forward.


Many of these venture-capital firms are located in big cities such as New York and London. But the revolutionary tech companies they seeded (Google, Facebook, Intel and Apple were all originally financed by venture capitalists) were traditionally headquartered in quiet suburban enclaves. Virtually no venture capital-backed tech cluster was headquartered in a major urban center prior to the near-collapse of the financial sector in 2008 — and then everything changed.


One result of the financial crisis — and its continuing recovery — has been a major back-to-the-city movement by tech entrepreneurs, their companies and employees. Mass migrations often follow social or economic upheaval, and the most recent crisis was no different. Just as Detroit rapidly declined when the automotive industry left Michigan, some suburban towns that were supported almost wholly by tech are now facing an uncertain future as young professionals make an exodus back to big cities.

Google Fiber and the Future of Tech


If you look at a map of cities that emerging from the financial crisis as tech centers and a map of cities that are most “Fiber Ready”, they look like the same map. Central Texas, the major Southeastern coastal cities (including Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte, N.C.), Salt Lake City, the Pacific Northwest and Nashville, Tennessee, were all home to major venture-capital deals and have seen major job growth. They’re all also in Google’s sights as Fiber expansion cities.


Where venture-capital dollars go, tech startups go. Where tech startups go, prosperity follows. This could mean a near future of tech-based urban revitalization, perhaps at the expense of former suburban tech hubs abandoned by the new generation of entrepreneurs.


Young, well-monied tech professionals want to live in the cities because of the amenities they offer, which are often lacking in the suburbs: cultural centers, public-transportation networks, nightlife and now, the greatest broadband network in existence. Fiber-wired cities have the potential to lure tech employees and entrepreneurs who want to reside in a place where they can have fast computers and cool TVs. But more importantly, the startups they work for — and the venture capital money they rode in on — could use Google’s huge and vast fiber-optic pipes to drive their businesses into position to become the leaders of the next tech boom.