In the spring of 2011, Kansas City, Mo., was selected as one of the first major American cities to receive a revolutionary new infrastructure: Google Fiber. We immediately recognized this as the beginning of the gigabit Internet revolution and were thrilled by the prospect of delivering high-speed Internet to our residents. And now we’re just as excited about the prospect of expanding the gigabit Internet revolution to 9 additional metropolitan areas across the U.S. The Google Fiber project has been an incredible catalyst for community collaboration on a diverse range of issues – from digital inclusion to support for startup entrepreneurs. We signed on when the project was an experiment and assisted in the successful proof-of-concept that has resulted in today’s business model for Google Fiber. This experience puts us in a unique position to provide guidance and support to the new prospective communities. Those communities have been asking us: “What can we do to support Google Fiber?
The answer to that question is simple: Google Fiber wants the same thing that any business seeking to be successful wants from local government. As Citicorp’s Walter Wriston once stated: “Capital goes where it’s welcome and stays where it’s well treated.” In Kansas City, we have a long history of supporting innovation and entrepreneurial initiatives; when the City is recognized as a good investment, we welcome that spirit and immediately engage our public-private resources to help. We assist these new business ventures by creating an environment of transparency, predictability and certainty to minimize the unknowns that will undoubtedly be encountered.
Businesses want to locate in cities that provide excellent customer service and engage experienced staff who can provide detailed knowledge that will propel a project to success. In other words, they want to work with a city that not only recognizes its role as a regulatory body, but as a facilitator of business relationships. To that end, the most important service we are providing Google Fiber is the bi-weekly technical team meetings where City staff and Google Fiber’s design and construction teams review upcoming design challenges in the project, resolve construction issues in the field, identify opportunities for sharing resources and team up on projects to expedite installation of conduit for the current and future use of both parties.
The publication of the Google Fiber Checklist is a major milestone for this project. As I read it I am reminded that we also provided responses to these questions. But the questions were delivered in late night telephone calls and answers were due within 48 or 72 hours – all under a tight non-disclosure agreement. The Checklist and the time allotted for responses is an incredible opportunity for communities to fully assess their responses and, most importantly, include and encourage the input of their citizens and business community. Very large-scale projects like Google Fiber have tremendous economic impact on communities, not only because they are bringing gigabit fiber-to-the-home Internet services but because of the financial investment, construction jobs and related employment that accompany the construction.
We have seen over 1,000 persons employed in the construction industry both from our local contractors and suppliers and over 50 contractors from 17 states. The long-term benefits of ubiquitous gigabit Internet service are only beginning to take shape in our community but Google Fiber is a talent attractor as seen in the City's Launch KC initiative, the entrepreneur-led KC Startup Village and weekly entrepreneurial events like Kauffman Foundation's 1 Million Cups. The Kansas City Library and organizations like Connecting for Good are taking on the challenge of ensuring digital inclusion throughout our economically distressed neighborhoods. Our regional digital engagement strategy is being led by the Mayors' Bistate Innovations Team and their playbook, Playing to Win in America’s Digital Crossroads, is our roadmap to success.
In Kansas City, we are proud of our role in leading the gigabit Internet revolution. It is important to recognize that expansion of networks across the country is not a zero-sum game for cities. The U.S. is still behind many countries in broadband speeds and adoption, so we are not competing with each other, we are competing with the world.
Rick Usher is Assistant City Manager for Small Business & Entrepreneurship for Kansas City, Missouri and facilitates the technical committee for Google Fiber deployment.