Google Fiber: Why does Kansas City get to go high-speed? (+video)
Super high-speed Internet comes to Kansas City, courtesy of Google. Business leaders hope lightning fast connections with spur innovation and jobs. Google looks to be expanding further from its original business of Internet searching.
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If you live in Kansas City, Kansas or Missouri, as of Thursday you have that option, brought to you by the same technology giant who turned an Internet search engine into a verb, a valuable stock, and a household name: Google.
The project to turn this Midwestern city of about 600,000 into a hub of hyper-fast Internet – called Google Fiber – is expected to yield tangible benefits for the local economy. As one of the most prominent launches of a citywide network, it could also highlight the broader issue of slow Internet – as speed becomes crucial for innovation in a digital economy.
“It raises the visibility of the city and the region as being a significant place to find both technology and entrepreneurs,” says Joni Cobb, president and CEO of Pipeline, an entrepreneurial fellowship program based in Kansas City. “It allows them to do everything faster, better, and cheaper.”
For $70 a month, Google Fiber offers an Internet hookup 100 times faster than average US broadband speeds, taking advantage of advanced networks of fiber-optic cables. It’s speedy enough to download an HD movie in a few seconds and it’s the type of network often called “future proof,” because it’s limited more by the computers sending information than by network speeds.
“In the 20th century, businesses would look at a town and see if it had an exit on the interstate [to decide to locate there],” says Patrick Lucey, a researcher and one of the authors of a recent report on internet connectivity by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “In the twenty-first century, they’ll look for a fiber-optic network.”
The connection uploads just as fast as it downloads, which is both rare and essential for companies or individuals that work with large amounts of data. Telemedicine— the practice of doctors treating patients remotely over an Internet connection— is one such area, and the Google Fiber project could potentially turn Kansas City into a center for that industry, according to Ryan Weber, president of KCNext, the Technology Council of Greater Kansas City. Telemedicine is considered one potential way to reduce the cost of healthcare.
Kansas City beat out more than 1,100 other cities to win the Google project. The company said the enthusiasm of residents won it over. The company is using a similar metric to decide who gets Fiber service first: neighborhoods that express the most interest by pre-registering will be the first to be wired.
This isn’t the first such network in the US. Morristown, Tenn. and Lafayette, La., have it. High-speed Internet has brought thousands of high-paying jobs to Bristol, Va. and a startup incubator to Chattanooga, Tenn. Unlike most Internet service, those cities run their networks as local utilities like electricity or water.
Fast Internet speeds are potentially so important for the economic future that residents of Leverett, Mass., voted in June to finance a similar project, even though it will raise property taxes there by approximately 6 percent.