Technology

How Kansas City, Kan., Won Over Google

An overbuilt fiber optic infrastructure and history of strong public-private partnerships made KCK a prime location for Google Fiber.
by | April 19, 2011
 

Not having high-speed Internet, says Google Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette, is "sucky." Most of us would agree -- when a YouTube video stops to buffer, it is very sucky indeed. But soon, Kansas City, Kan., (KCK) will become the test bed for an Internet so fast, it won't stop to buffer.

Last year, Google announced that it will build a superfast, fiber optic network in one lucky city, providing what Google's Vice President of Access Services Milo Medin recently described as "the Gigabit Web" -- consisting of Internet upload and download speeds of 1 gigabit per second. This will far surpass the traditional "Megabit Web" that the majority of Americans use, providing speeds more than 100 times faster than a typical broadband connection.

KCK beat out 1,100 cities, largely because Google officials believe it can build efficiently, and "develop relationships with local government and organizations that can serve as a template for the use of this next-generation infrastructure," says Dan Martin, Global Communications and Public Affairs for Google. As a result, Google plans to build a fiber broadband service in KCK, starting next year. It also plans to let other Internet service providers (ISPs) use their pipes to provide service. At the first community meeting to discuss the project, Google representatives told government officials and residents more about why their city was picked for the demonstration project. The company's interest, in part, was because the fiber optic infrastructure in Kansas City was overbuilt, the Kansas Health Institute reported.

At the meeting, Matt Dunne, Google's head of community affairs, said that the overbuilding of pipe showed a great deal of foresight. The pipe dates back to the city's railroad heritage. Once construction begins, Dunne continued, the company expects minimal inconvenience to residents because Kansas City also has great utility poles.

Mayor Joe Reardon told Bloomberg News his community won because it focused on the fundamentals and on their strengths, which include the combined Kansas City and Wyandotte County government (called the Unified Government), its consolidated control of the city and county's utilities and its solid public-private partnerships.

The Wyandotte Economic Development Council, a nonprofit organization involved in fostering economic development deals in the community, teamed with the Unified Government to strategically plan how to sell the community. "That's what we do every day -- try to bring businesses that aren't here into our county," says Brent Miles, president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council. "Except it was recruiting Google, which was a whole other animal."

"Our main tactic was show [Google] that this is a government that understands business, and the ways to illustrate that is to point out our unique government structure," Miles says. "When [Google] actually got here, we could bring partners we had done public-private partnerships with and they could talk about how our system works."

The two public-private partnerships that Kansas City highlighted included the International Speedway Corporation for the Kansas Speedway, a NASCAR track, and the Cerner Corporation, a high-end medical software company in neighboring Kansas City, Mo. The racetrack, which was completed in 2001, hosts two annual NASCAR weekends a year. "That really is probably the key economic project that not only illustrated a public-private partnership," Miles says, "but illustrates our resurgence." This resurgence is tied to Village West, a development that opened in 2002, and includes the Kansas Speedway, the CommunityAmerica Ballpark and many other tenants. It has significantly fueled growth in KCK and Wyandotte County.

The other partnership, he says, with Cerner Corporation, involved two goals: One was to bring Cerner to KCK (which came with over 4,000 jobs); the other was to build a stadium for the Sporting Kansas City professional soccer team. (The two owners of Sporting KC also own part of Cerner.) The deal was considered one of the top 10 deals of 2010 by the Kansas City Business Journal. "This showed Google that we're good to work with and that we've done large-scale projects," Miles says.

Also vital to KCK's case was the support of the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) and University of Kansas Hospital because Google Fiber could transform the way medicine is provided, Miles says. KUMC is applying for National Cancer Institute designation, which could have a $1 billion a year impact on the Kansas City metro area. "To have this technology and team with Google as we walk down the path of this NCI process showed another joint partnership that was not only important to us, but key for Google," says Miles.

Once Google chose Kansas City for the project, Miles says the development agreement was approved by the city, county and municipal utility all at one time. "When you have a streamlined process with a governing body who has been through these public-private partnerships before, I think all of that showed our ability to actually back up what we'd talked about in our site tour [on Feb. 8]," he says.

The economic development council's job now is figuring out how to market the Google partnership, how to recruit with it and how to explain it to the existing business community as a positive asset.

One immediate effect of Google's entry into KCK is that less than a week after the announcement, Time Warner Cable announced that it will make upgrades for a 50-megabit service, which is three times faster than its current fastest service. In addition, James Nelson, the head of Kansas City's largest local independent ISP, KCnet, told GigaOM he wants to take Google up on its offer to share its fiber-to-the-home network with other ISPs.

Miles says that the partnership with the other communications companies during the deployment is vital. "Let's not fight this, let's figure out how we use this idea and we all benefit from it. And if that can occur, that's pretty monumental."

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