Google’s Wireless Experimentation in Kansas City, Mo., Should Be More Transparent

Google was notoriously vague about its project to bring Fiber to the city five years ago, and needs to be open and clear about its newest wireless experiment.

by Lewis Diuguid, The Kansas City Star / April 19, 2016
Map of apartments with Google Fiber in Kansas City. Blue indicates buildings already offering Fiber and the pink dots indicate future sites for the service.

(TNS) -- Google has helped keep this area on the world’s high-tech radar ever since it announced in 2011 that it had picked Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., for its uber-high speed Internet service.

There have been some wrinkles along the way, but many area residents have benefited from paying $300 the first year to get in-home broadband Internet access for a total of seven years with speeds of up to 5 megabits per second. That option is gone, but people signing up in eastern Johnson County can get Google Fiber for $50 a month for speeds of up to 100 megabits per second.

Google like other Internet providers also bundles basic cable packages with its gigabit Internet service priced at $130 a month. People from other countries often have expressed their envy to area residents about the Kansas City area getting the high speed Google connection.

The success of this area as Google’s laboratory experiment has caused the company to announce that it will test a new technology to determine whether it can make the Internet both fast and wireless, The Kansas City Star reports. If the latest “thing” works, Google will start running tests downtown on the Plaza and in six other locations, which could make Kansas City the most wired place on the planet.

That news will make other cities worldwide glow with a radioactive green envy that could be seen from the International Space Station. However, there aren’t immediate plans to hook up residents’ wireless devices.

Google experts in this metropolitan petri dish are trying to gauge what might be possible by the end of next year.

In addition, the company is trying to determine whether it could use wireless technology to connect remote places to the Internet, where it otherwise would be too costly using traditional wires and utility poles.

Google’s new plans on Thursday went to a Kansas City Council committee, seeking a two-year, discounted approval to erect antennas on city light poles and other structures in eight areas — downtown, the Plaza, Waldo, 18th and Vine, Zona Rosa, Brookside, Westport and near Barry Road and Interstate 29. Tests will take place outdoors in four locations and inside at all eight.

Except for 18th and Vine, the targeted areas exclude African American and Latino communities.

The City Council voted 11-2 to grant Google access to city light poles for the project. The company wants to determine how well frequencies can handle video streaming, online gaming and other Internet uses.

The targeted radio spectrum had been restricted for military use. It remained mostly vacant. About a year ago, federal regulators opened it up, hoping the frequencies might relieve the airwave congestion that can make connecting to the Internet problematic.

The Federal Communications Commission calls it the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. It would be open to anyone, unlike cellphone frequencies, which companies pay the federal government for exclusive use.

Google’s venture using the radio spectrum is all experimental. Company officials were just as vague about this operation as they were when they first came to town in 2011.

Competing Internet providers were leery about Google then entering the market and grabbing customers. Some other companies have since had to up their game to provide people with better Internet speeds.

But Google needs to be more transparent and accountable with this Kansas City experiment for public safety reasons. Kansas City officials also must heavily monitor the operation to ensure that public safety is not jeopardized.

The company has gotten an experimental license from the FCC to operate on the newly available frequencies. It has done testing in the 3.5 gigahertz range in conjunction with the Defense Department and the Navy to be certain that its Kansas City experiment won’t interfere with radar used for some air traffic control.

There is also the mishmash of metropolitan area radio signals, including transmissions dispatching calls for dozens of different area police, fire and emergency medical personnel to homes and businesses where the services are critically needed.

The Kansas City area can ill-afford to have Google’s experiment mess up even one emergency call. Google needs to be more careful and open than ever in its new experiment.

©2016 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.