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Last November, Google Fiber turned on in Kansas City. Since it’s launch, Fiber has spread to other Kansas neighborhoods and Google has announced the implementation of the project in Austin, TX and Provo, UT. The latest town to make the exclusive fiber list is Shawnee, KS, a suburb of Kansas City. Why isn’t Fiber starting in California or setting up in hubs like Seattle, Portland, or Boston? Why Kansas?
According to Forbes, Kansas City impressed Google with their eagerness in the application process and (more importantly) the local government’s plan to stay out of the way. The city promised to keep bureaucracy at a minimum but help Google with whatever they needed. Depending on your political beliefs, the idea of a large business having minimal checks and regulations either sounds like a horror film or music to your ears, but it’s a small price to pay for the benefits of Google Fiber.
Google Fiber promises speeds 100 times faster than normal broadband. Google feels that current broadband is the equivalent of candles and oil lamps, while Fiber is electricity. But the benefits of Fiber aren’t meant to help the average user play Angry Birds faster and with a better screen, it’s meant to boost the community and bring business to the towns.
Google wants Fiber to boost the Kansas City economy and the economy of other towns that it touches. More commerce will bring more money to the cities which will benefit the local citizens. Even though it’s a global tech giant, Google wants to be a company that helps build up local communities.
So what was the Kansas City government referring to when it assured Google there would be minimal road blocks to the Fiber project? Google needed to hang fiber optic cables along the current power lines (hence the name: Google Fiber) but was stopped when local cable companies complained about favoritism. The city had promised Google the ability to string the cable along current electrical lines free of charge, which is unfair to Time Warner Cable who had to pay. The Government would have been helping one corporation succeed at the expense of others in the area.
They all eventually reached a deal after months of delays and battles with lawyers, but that’s why Google has to be so picky with the cities its chooses. An area that seems pristine will still have government roadblocks, to say nothing of cities like New York and LA that have stricter regulations. Fiber is currently moving from Kansas City out into the Kansas suburbs, with plans to grow into Mission Woods, Westwood, and Olathe along with Shawnee. They’re looking at where they’ve had success and are building around it instead of starting with new regions and new governments. They’re building buzz by taking the path of least resistance.
As someone who used to live in the not-so-bustling metropolitan area of Olathe, Kansas, I think the region could use a shot in the arm. And who knows, maybe a growing bubble of high speed Internet in the middle of the country will help bridge the East Coast/West Coast tech divide.