What does a former Port Authority building in NYC, dark fiber, gigabit-speed Internet, and Kansas City have in common? Google. In early 2005, the Internet search giant began aquiring high-speed fiber optic lines all over the world. The company also moved into a building atop “a major physical network node that allows tech and telecom firms to share space in proximity to improve network service and speed,” according to Time Business. At the time, there was a great deal of speculation that Google might be building it’s own private Internet.
In his 2005 article for Search Engine Journal titled “Google Building Alternative Internet,” Jim Hedger hinted at the reality to come:
Google has always prided itself on its ability to organize the world’s information and provide it free of charge to its users. The cost of Google’s services is bourn by the advertisers. Google might simply be exponentially increasing its online real estate inventory by enticing hundreds of millions of new registered users to take a look at whatever it is they are creating. Assuming it is the coolest thing on the block when released and is faster and cheaper than its competitors (as most of Google’s new products tend to be), many of those new users will choose to stick around to use the services offered by a Google branded network.
With the announcement that Google would begin construction on the first gigabit-speed fiberhood this October, it seems that the search engine giant is indeed offering the “coolest thing on the bock.”
So what exactly is Google doing in Kansas City?
Here, it is right from the Google Fiber Blog:
Our goal is to build products that will help improve our users’ lives. And when it comes to Internet access, it’s clear what provides a better user experience:
Fast is better than slow. On the Web, nobody wants to wait for a video to buffer or a website to load.
Abundance is better than scarcity. There’s a plethora of rich content available online—and it’s increasingly only available to people who have the speeds and means to access it.
Choice is better than no choice. Competition and choice help make products better for users.
With that in mind, we embarked on a journey to bring ultra-high speeds to Kansas City, Kan. and Kansas City, Mo. Google Fiber is 100 times faster than today’s average broadband. No more buffering. No more loading. No more waiting. Gigabit speeds will get rid of these pesky, archaic problems and open up new opportunities for the Web. Imagine: instantaneous sharing; truly global education; medical appointments with 3D imaging; even new industries that we haven’t even dreamed of, powered by a gig.
The first phase of this project is residential. Only after the fiberhood construction will Google start talking to businesses about making the ultra high-speed connections available to them.
So, what does being the first American city to be wired for fiber mean to the residents of Kansas City?
The first person I posed this question to was Mike Brown of The Brainzooming Group. Mike got involved in the project when city officials approached the Social Media Club of Kansas City to help identify ways Google Fiber could be used in Kansas City.
Within 45 seconds, I’d tweeted Joe Cox, the SMCKC president at the time, to say that The Brainzooming Group would donate its innovation expertise pro bono to design and facilitate a large scale brainstorming session on Google Fiber.
Aaron Deacon of Curiolab and President of the Social Media Club of Kansas City was also involved in the brainstorming event that resulted in the “Building the Gigabit City” report. He says the potential of ultra high-speed Internet was the impetus for his involvement.
The selection of Kansas City as the location of the Google Fiber experiment presented an enormous opportunity for the region. There was an enormous capital investment being made by a private company, and the fact that it was a highly visible tech giant meant the national and global spotlight would naturally shine here. Apart from being aware of the opportunity, it was also pretty clear early on that there was no road map for how to proceed. Google wasn’t going to drive initiatives beyond the narrow focus of their fiber-to-the-home project.
Unlike many cities trying to figure out next generation broadband, we didn’t have to do the planning work of figuring out how to implement the network. This approach created the advantages, but the flip side is that we needed to start the planning efforts from scratch.
The Building the Gigabit City event was the first step that I was involved in. Once we had that report, we wanted to start building an understanding at a consumer level of what this opportunity meant for Kansas City.
Brown also commented on the impact the fiberhood roll-out was having:
The biggest near-term impact may not even be technological, but political. The divide between Kansas and Missouri goes beyond geography, to a true rivalry and even an antagonism that extends back beyond the start of the Civil War. The fact that Google Fiber has been a forum to bring the mayors of the two Kansas Cities together for a common cause not only speaks to the foresight of the mayors (Sly James in KCMO and Joe Reardon in KCK) but to the attractiveness and economic and social impact Google Fiber can make happend in the area.
Incrdibly fast Internet is great, but being able to turn back the clock and erase harmful and long-standing geographic and political divisions are something I didn’t think I’d ever see happen.
Alex Greenwood is a Kansas City resident of a fiberhood slated for construction sometime next spring. He is also the owner of AlexanderG Public Relations and Caroline Street Press.
What do you see as the greatest potential impact of becoming a Gigabit City?
If Kansas City can take this opportunity—this massive technological head start over the rest of the nation—and channel it into the right things, it will mean significant employment and quality of life changes. There are several “ifs” in that statement, but I think KC has the brainpower and creativity to make it happen.
What about the impact this could have on the daily life of residents in a fiberhood?
Google Fiber has refocused Kansas City on the value of the Internet. The registration process for fiberhoods shone light on pockets of the city that don’t have access to the Internet; thus those people don’t have access to the potential for financial, personal, and community growth it represents.
For example, the majority of my firm’s clientele can be directly or indirectly attributed to my Internet presence. When I think about starting my business in 2010, I sincerely doubt I would have made it without Internet access. The Internet opened me up to a world of prospective customers. I suspect Google Fiber will inspire many other Kansas City entrepreneurs and small business people to start their own businesses.
Mike Brown echoed Greenwood’s thoughts and said:
Entrepreneurs and financial people should be taking a look at Kansas City, if they aren’t already. With the Google Fiber roll-out, this area is primed to go through a development, expansion, and growth push that is unique within the United States, and perhaps globally.
The Google Fiber Project has already benefited Kansas City. It has put a spotlight on the need to close the technological gap in poor neighborhoods. It is also opening up new opportunities in education and medicine. Do you think that this experiment in Kansas City will prompt other service providers to take the next technological step? Don’t you wish you lived in Kansas City, now?