Thoughts on Google Fiber process

Posted by Mary Jo Draper

Neighborhoods have been divided into “fiberhoods” in the Google Fiber pre-registration process. Each fiberhood includes an average of 800 people, and most need to get 40-80 households pre-registered in order to ensure they have access to the service. The neighborhoods in green have already pre-qualified, while those in yellow have not.

Before Google Fiber’s announcement last week that it would initially build its ultra-high-speed network in neighborhoods with the most interest, Kansas City had done a lot of planning about what it wanted Google Fiber to do.  One of the major concerns expressed was that Google should work with the community to decrease rather than increase the digital divide. In other words, residents of some areas of the city have computers and can afford access to high-speed connections, while in other areas, people do not have access to technology or in some cases do not have any interest in it. There is a lot of evidence that access to technology creates an advantage for job seekers, business start-ups and even high school students.

Now neighborhoods in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri are essentially competing for the Google Fiber service.  It’s a good natured competition, and a smart marketing move on Google’s part, but now that the neighborhoods with the most interest have pre-qualified, what happens next?

A look at the map of pre-registered neighborhoods shows that the neighborhoods closest to State Line have been the first to qualify, while the neighborhoods to the east of us have not. Google Access Manager Kevin Lo told us Friday that neighborhoods that do not show an interest have no guarantee they’ll ever get the service.

I admit I was one of the first to sign up, because I see the value for my business and I love new technology. But at a meeting between Google and neighborhood leaders on Friday, and in neighborhood Facebook pages and Google groups, some concerns are being voiced. I hope Google and neighborhoods will work together to smooth out these concerns so we can realize the vision of strengthening communities, creating jobs and finding new ways to utilize technology.

  • What, if anything, should the “green” neighborhoods do to help the “yellow” neighborhoods get Google Fiber? Clearly, the residents of the green neighborhoods have rushed to sign up for Google Fiber, while the yellow neighborhoods have not. Is that just because the green neighborhoods want the new TV service?  At the Google meeting with neighborhoods, one woman observed that her neighborhood needed the service more than others, but its residents may not understand its value. She asked Google how we can all help ensure her neighborhood doesn’t get left behind. For example, if elderly residents understood they might someday be able to visit a doctor without taking a bus and waiting in a waiting room, would they find value in that? If they did, would they feel that they could afford the service?
  • How can we ensure youth will benefit from the service? Google is doing a great service by agreeing to hook up – for free – any school, library, government building and public safety building in any neighborhood that prequalifies. Personally, I would like to see all of those institutions hooked up, even if the neighbors around them don’t want the service or feel they can’t afford it. Could neighborhoods with lots of interest “adopt” libraries and schools to make sure the kids get a chance to experience this technology?
  • How can we all work together to make this a communitybuilding project? Google has assigned coordinators to different areas of the two Kansas Cities to coordinate the rollout of the service. I hope Google will take advantage of the strong communication channels that already exist in our neighborhoods and among our neighborhoods. Many of us would like to share our non-fiber expertise and connection with Google’s technology connections in order to reach the potential this project has for strengthening Kansas City’s connections and forging new models.
  • How do we balance the experimental, community-changing side of this project against the fact that Google is also a business? I’ve heard concerns from neighborhood leaders that Google is asking us to set up meetings in which they can explain the service. On one hand, that makes sense, because of the potential for economic development and business startups that Google Fiber offers. But most neighborhood associations would not allow a cable company or any other for-profit business to come to a meeting to sell its services. How should neighborhoods think about this new type of relationship?

I don’t know exactly where I come down on these issues, but I think it’s important to keep the conversations open and transparent and moving toward the goals we set before Google rolls out its products and prices.

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