Google Fiber in Kansas City

Google Fiber begins to expand outside of Kansas City

Three years after creating a frenzy with its plan to test ultra-high-speed networks in a few municipalities, Google late last year began connecting homes in the two Kansas Cities (in Kansas and Missouri) and just said it will expand what it calls the “Silicon Prairie” to Olathe, Kan.

The company announced the plans to move Google Fiber into Olathe, and possibly other cities in the Kansas City area, in a blog post that could indicate that its plans won’t be limited to a small section of the country.

The Google Fiber project to bring 1 gigabit/sec connections to businesses and homes represents the very high end of municipal broadband. The Obama administration’s National Broadband Plan has set the bar currently at 4 megabits/sec downstream and 1 megabit/sec upstream, with plans for 100 megabits/sec down and 50 megabits/sec up for 100 million homes by 2020. If Google Fiber catches on, it could raise the bar even higher.

When Google announced its intentions in February 2010, more than 1,100 communities nationwide applied to be the first recipient of the technology — some doing so in extravagant fashion. The mayor of Sarasota, Fla., jumped in a shark tank to get Google’s attention. The mayor of Duluth, Minn., jumped into Lake Superior — in March. And Topeka, Kan., temporarily changed its name to Google, Kan.

In March 2011, Google’s chose Kansas City, Kan., for the first deployment, later expanding across the state line to the other Kansas City. Customers get gigabit Internet for $70 a month, and Internet and TV combined for $120.

For now, though, 1 gigabit/sec speed could represent the rare instance in Internet history where bandwidth outstrips demand. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo visited the Google Fiber cities earlier this year and found that, while businesses and residents were glad to have super-fast Internet, nobody had come close making use of its capacity. Manjoo speculated that it take a much broader base of users before services are developed that take full advantage of Google Fiber.

One possibility for taking up all that space could be 3D TV, which Google is offering to its “fiberhoods” in the two cities. It offers a range of capabilities, including a terabyte of cloud storage, interactive searches, recording of up to eight shows at a time and 1,080 high-definition format, but it’s also limited to two channels, 3net and ESPN3D, as well as to subscribers who own 3D glasses and a 3D-capable TV. So it could be a while before it catches on.

Many city officials see high-speed Internet as a potential boon to business and development. The availability of Google Fiber in Kansas City, for example, is attracting entrepreneurs looking to deliver Internet-based services, particularly those that stream music, deliver online video or live conferencing, or have other network-intensive products requiring large amounts of bandwidth, according to a Huffington Post report.

“Google Fiber is offering unrivaled performance at a price point that is unavailable in any other market.… the cost reduction of switching to Google Fiber is something akin to a tax break,” wrote Rod Austin of the Missoulian. And some in the tech industry say Google Fiber could force Internet service providers to be more competitive, which could in turn help advance the National Broadband Plan.

Commercial providers and municipalities have clashed over whether municipalities could provide broadband on their own in areas where commercial service is not available. In 2011, for example, North Carolina, after years of lobbying by the cable and telecom industry, joined 19 other states in passing a law that would make it nearly impossible for cities to operate their own networks.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said at the time the law “will discourage municipal governments from addressing deployment in communities where the private sector has failed to meet broadband service needs.” Clyburn had earlier described the bill as “a significant barrier to broadband deployment and may impede local efforts to promote economic development.”

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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