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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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The Kansas City project will likely highlight the fact that average Internet speeds in most US cities lag far behind those in European and Asian cities, according to the Open Technology Institute. The US ranks 13th in average network speed according to Akamai’s “State of the Internet” report, behind South Korea, Hong Kong, Latvia, Romania, Denmark, and others.

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The Google project will also be the cheapest super-fast connection in the country, and Google has added other enticements such as high-speed access for people that don’t have it, about one-quarter of Kansas City’s population. Anyone who doesn’t want to pay $70 a month for the one gigabit per second connection can pay $300 to connect their home to the network and then have free access to the Web at the current US average speeds for seven years – which Google says should increase property values.

Mind you, the Google project isn’t wholly philanthropic. The search engine is also potentially challenging cable companies or DSL-phone service by offering the super fast connection plus TV service for $120 a month. In Kansas City, other ISPs offer cheaper TV and Web packages deals for $90, but their download speeds are only ten to 20 megabits per second as opposed to 1,000, and their upload speeds even slower.

This suggests that the project may be part of a larger business strategy to put Google in direct competition with the companies that connect your home to Internet and TV in the first place, companies like Time Warner or RCN or Comcast.  It mirrors other efforts by Google to branch beyond its original core business of Internet searching: like Android and smartphones, or Google Plus and social media, or Chrome and Internet browsers, or the Nexus tablet computer. 

“I think what we see from them is efforts to lead the way by demonstrating how they think tech ought to be done,” says Jeff Jarvis, author of the book “What Would Google Do?” “I think the same is true of the fiber launch. This is what you can have America, go demand it. And if we all did demand it, that’s great business for Google. The more we are online, the more Google makes,” Jarvis says.

Chris Mitchell, of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Washington-based policy organization focused on community development, says the project could change the way people think about broadband connections and show what’s possible when bandwidth isn’t an issue. 

“It gives you a sense of how incredibly overpriced the connections most of us have are,” Mitchell says. “Google is not doing anything that other companies like Comcast or Time Warner couldn’t do.”

The project might end up being a watershed moment to make broadband ubiquitous around the US, according to Toby Rush, founder and CEO of EyeVerify, a Kansas City company that makes a biometric tool that establishes identity based on a human eye, seen by a smartphone camera. 

“I think in the not too distant future, five to seven years from now, we will simply assume there will be Internet connectivity wherever we go, like we assume there will be electricity now,” Mr. Rush says.

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