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A Healthy High (Google) Fiber Diet for Kansas City: The Gigabit Web and it's Economic Development Implications

Mali R. Schantz-Feld (Spring 2011)
The Internet highway is paved with new ideas, innovation, and success. Accessing that highway quickly, efficiently, and cost effectively are imperatives in attracting new industries and growing local economies. Having the right connections is important, and this is especially true with technology.

In February 2010, Google unveiled "Google Fiber," a plan to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks, more than 100 times faster than most networks currently in operation, in a small number of trial locations across the United States. When Google announced Kansas City, Kansas, as the first location in the nation for its high-fiber project, Brent W. Miles, president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council exclaimed, "We might be the most interesting economic development story in the Midwest."

Broadband.gov, a website run by the FCC, noted that 62 percent of American workers rely on the Internet to perform their jobs. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that jobs depending on broadband and ICT - such as computer systems analysts, database administrators, and media and communications workers - are expected to grow by 25 percent from 2008-2018, 2.5 times faster than the average across all occupations and industries.

The Competition
Interested parties were encouraged to issue RFIs for the Google endeavor. Communities would be chosen dependent on factors that impact the efficiency and speed of the program's deployment, according to Google, such as community support, local resources, weather conditions, approved construction methods and local regulatory issues, broadband availability, and already existing broadband speeds. The Google team also consulted with local government organizations, conducted site visits, and met with local officials.

By the response deadline in March 2010, Google had been contacted by more than 1,100 cities nationwide; one year after that, Kansas City, Kansas, was selected as the first location for the project that committed to providing one-gigabit-per-second fiber straight to homes and businesses at a competitive price.

The fiber project will impact not just computer-centric companies, such as data centers, but also a long and diverse list of businesses including small startup technology entrepreneurs, "app" developers, cell phone companies, high-speed financial services backup firms, and engineering and architecture firms that use large CAD and design files. Even manufacturers can increase efficiency in inventory control, creation of smart grids, real-time manufacturing processes, and metering.

Benefits All Around
The medical sector - with developing electronic medical records, online record-keeping, or medical delivery systems - is also expecting benefits. Milo Medin, vice president of Access Services for Google explained in the official company blog, "We'll be working closely with local organizations including the Kauffman Foundation, KCNext, and the University of Kansas Medical Center to help develop the gigabit applications of the future."

The long-term results will also shed light on small businesses that previously could not connect to a fiber network because it was too cost prohibitive, and even have positive impact on the environment. If employees can telecommute more efficiently, companies may be able to offer more work-from-home opportunities, facilitating less travel pollution and fuel savings. While Kansas City is the first city chosen to take its citizens from a megabit web to a gigabit web by Google, more announcements are expected to follow.
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