UNIVERSITY CITY (KMOX) – Now that the Loop trolley is inching closer toward laying tracks, plans are speeding up to simultaneously bury fiber optic cable, creating what’s dubbed a “gigabit main street” to attract businesses and innovators.
Loop Data Rail project manager Dave Sandel says to expect a “gigabit storefront” to open soon on Delmar Blvd., sporting a slick, Apple Store-esque glimpse at what’s possible with hyper-fast Internet speeds.
Hint: it’s not just for Netflix in your living room.
Fiber optic-enabled Internet boasts download speeds 100 to 300 times faster than what we’re used to and upload speeds up to 500 times faster. It’s coveted by companies that make heavy use of videoconferencing, by engineering and architecture firms collaborating on complex files, and by start-ups building new things.
In fact, Sandel says Square and Twitter are two examples of ideas born in the Loop, but which fled for the infrastructure (and talent) of Silicon Valley.
Cities across the country, including St. Louis at one time, have been chasing Google Fiber, which promises to blanket a city with access to gigabit Internet. Kansas City was the first chosen, followed by Austin, Tex. and Provo, Utah.
Michael Orlowski, attorney for the Loop Data Rail and also for Google Fiber in Kansas City, says businesses have flocked to the first neighborhoods there where fiber became available. (He cautions that he is unable to provide any ‘privileged’ information about Google’s efforts.)
Google is now teasing other cities.
St. Louis isn’t one of them, but Orlowski says that’s more than okay.
He says targeting fiber to a specific corridor — as opposed to trying to build it everywhere and anywhere — is not only much, much more cost-effective, but it also molds that previously mentioned “gigabit main street,” clustering like-minded innovators in a community.
Real estate development along the corridor is a convenient side effect.
LIVE FROM THE LOOP…
One idea Sandel says he wants to see happen is an online high-definition video channel with live streams of events at various Loop establishments, like concerts at Blueberry Hill, the Pageant, or Cicero’s, a conference at the Regional Arts Commission, or a show at COCA.
“If you remember ‘Austin City Limits,'” he said, “I don’t see why we couldn’t have ‘Loop City Limits’ with all of the clubs and venues and creative venues.”
Costs to bury the fiber optic cables are lessened by the plan to do it at the same time the street is ripped up for the trolley, but still add up to about $1.4 million. Sandel says fundraising is underway and institutions in the area, including Washington University, are signed-on.
In fact, he’s excited that the project is adding its first international board member — from where he says he can’t yet say.
“They want to every year have a delegation come over of businesses and investors to meet companies in the Loop, to see what they might invest in,” he explained, “and they want us to come back to their country and do the same thing.”
The big questions people are already asking: how much will it cost and will I be able to get it?
Sandel says look for price points similar to Google Fiber’s, so about $80/month for the lowest plan. The not-for-profit is vetting potential service providers, which could conceivably include Google, AT&T, or any number of other companies which facilitate fiber service.
With construction on the Loop Trolley anticipated to begin by June, Sandel hopes the details come together faster than a fiber-powered movie download.
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