I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the Google Fiber Launch Party on July 26, 2012. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much. Since the initial announcement that Google would be turning Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri into the first "gigabit cities," there have been grand announcements and press conferences followed by long periods of silence. New rollout dates were announced, only to be delayed. I was wrong about the event. It was the closest thing that Kansas City will ever have to a Silicon Valley launch. It was cool!
Google has finally created a strong physical presence in Kansas City. Taking two buildings on the northeast corner of Westport Rd. and State Line Avenue, Google created Fiber Space. At Fiber Space you can experience Google Fiber and understand what it might mean to bring this product to your home. If you want to see the future, this is the place for you!
So, what’s so great about Google Fiber? This really has the possibility to reshape how our community uses data and could completely redefine how we all watch television. Google Fiber brings a 1 gigabit (1,000 megabits) connection to your home. If you use current broadband, you likely have speeds of 5 megabits download and 1.2 megabits upload. So what do you do with that space? You can collaborate with friends on homework assignments, upload vacation movies, and download music in virtually no time. The way they explained it was that if you and your friend were in two cars, each going from KC to NYC, and one car was “traditional” broadband and the other car was Google Fiber, the Google Fiber car would reach Manhattan before the broadband car left Missouri. Wow!
But with all that capacity, are you just going to download faster? Google hopes not. They have also launched a television service. It has hundreds of on air and "cable" channels, and on demand content all in HD. Multiple televisions can watch multiple programs on televisions as well as on tablets and computers. Each home will have a DVR with over 500 meg of storage. You can subscribe to additional premium cable channels for an added fee.
This can’t be free, can it? No. It isn’t. There is a construction fee of $300 for Google Fiber. For Google Fiber plus television, it costs $120 per month. However, if a 2 year contract is signed, the $300 fee is waived. What if you don’t want all the television products? Google will provide 1 terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) of free cloud storage and the gigabit connection for $70 per month. If a one year contract is signed, the $300 fee is waived. Both services come with all the necessary hardware and installation. The television service even comes with a free android tablet computer!
As a librarian and someone concerned about the digital divide, I was very interested to see how Google would address these concerns. They will be offering a service that will run something very similar to traditional broadband service to homes for the cost of installation ($300 or twelve payments of $25 per month). Then there will be no charge for service for seven years!
Google has a very elaborate and interesting way to determine which neighborhoods will receive Google Fiber first. Once enough people in a given neighborhood (Google calls them "Fiberhoods") register and pay a $10 fee, then they commit to install that neighborhood. Along with those customers, Google will also commit to provide free connections to community anchor institutions like schools and libraries. You can determine if you live in one of the Missouri fiberhoods or Kansas fiberhoods on interactive maps that are part of the registration page.
When you visit the registration website, if you live in the Mid-Continent Public Library district, you are going to notice something is missing. Practically the entire Mid-Continent Public Library District and the more than 200,000 Kansas City residents living in our district are not included in any fiberhood and consequently, not eligible for this revolutionary service. This includes all of Kansas City north of the Missouri River. Google Fiber has been very quick to point out that they are only showing the first phase of the project. We can only hope that the residents of Hickman Mills, Ruskin Heights, Bannister, Red Bridge, Martin City, and all of the people in Kansas City North are included in the future. We can also only hope that the community anchor institutions like schools, libraries, fire houses, and police stations will still be able to be added to this service in the future when fiberhoods extend to these areas.
Also missing from the initial rollout was a "business solution." From the start, Kansas City leaders spoke about the great entrepreneurial opportunity this service would bring. However, without a business service and the inability to register any addresses that aren’t "residences" there really wasn’t much positive for small business owners. There is assurance that this service will be available shortly, however.
Steven V. Potter
Library Director and CEO