Ex-lawmaker to lead Austin’s Google Fiber operations: State Rep. Mark Strama said last week that he is leaving office to work for Google Inc. on its Google Fiber operations in Austin.
The move triggers a series of changes in the Austin political landscape and gives Google a well-connected figure to serve as the public face of its high-profile venture here.
Strama, 45, a Democratic legislator representing northern parts of Austin since 2005, starts the job with Google on July 15. Strama said his new job means he won’t run for mayor of Austin, as political observers had expected. More than a year remains on Strama’s legislative term, and a special election likely will be called in November to fill his seat.
In the new job, Strama will be the top Google Fiber official in Austin, charged with helping to formulate the company’s plan to plan, build, sell and run its proposed ultra-high-speed broadband fiber-optic access network here.
“I’m pretty pumped up about this,” said Strama, who said he sees the job as a chance to play a role at the start of an important new era for the Internet — one that is roughly 100 times faster than today’s typical broadband speeds.
Google officials said Strama’s job will be a long-term position and not just for the duration of the network’s construction, which is expected to be largely completed over the next few years.
“This is a position that stays here for many, many years,” said Michael Slinger, director of operations for Google Fiber nationally. “We are in there for the long-term with Mark. Mark will be the eyes and ears of our business in Austin.”
That means, Slinger said, that Strama will be involved in almost all aspects of the Austin project, including construction plans: the designation of “fiberhoods,” which are the precise neighborhoods where its network will be marketed and built; sales; community engagement and government relations.
A&M’s Killeen campus to partner on major solar testing facility: Texas A&M-Central Texas and a California company, PPA Partners, are partnering on what officials say be the world’s largest solar testing site adjacent to the Killeen campus.
The Center for Solar Energy will include a 50-megawatt solar farm on 500 acres that will be capable of testing 100 different solar technologies simultaneously under the same conditions. An additional 300 acres is set aside for offices and labs. The partnership also will give startup companies a chance to develop and validate their products, students to be educated in solar technologies and A&M researchers access to real-world data.
“We get to be the (university) system that becomes — over time — the No. 1 solar place in the U.S.,” said Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp. “And we get in on somebody else’s nickel.”
The attraction for Texas A&M-Central Texas, a four-year-old upper-level institution with 2,500 students, is that it can develop a solar technology curriculum leading to a degree. The center also will have arrangements with regional community colleges, including Austin Community College, to provide real-world training for the next generation of installers and technicians.
“You are talking about a game-changing program,” said Marc Nigliazzo, president of A&M-Central Texas. “We have the opportunity to build a curriculum off the fact we have this huge research laboratory just down the road.”
Bruce Mercy, CEO of PPA Partners, a solar development company, said the Killeen center would provide quarterly rankings of tested products: “It’ll be kind of like Consumer Reports.”