Splicing Into Google Fiber
2:24 pm
Tue June 26, 2012

Free Wifi For Rosedale?

Updated June 27, 2012 12:00pm:  Google has rejected Connecting for Good's wifi plan for Rosedale, according to Michael Liimatta.  He was told the idea is "not in their current licensing agreements."  Liimatta says he's still moving forward with the plan for an e-community center.

Google has promised Kansas City speed-of-light internet. The potential for residents, businesses, schools and hospitals, we've been told, is enormous.

But in the year since the Google Fiber project was announced, few tangible ideas have emerged for taking advantage of the super-fast network. (Though not for lack of meeting and brainstorming.)

Now, the founders of a new organization called Connecting for Good have a proposal to provide internet access to people who aren't connected at all.  They want to expand the reach of Google's fiber-optic cable by building a free or low-cost wireless network in the Rosedale neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas. 

Rosedale's Digital Divide

A new study commissioned by Google and the Mayor's Bistate Innovation Team finds that 17% of Kansas Citians don't use the internet at all, and 8% have slow-speed connections.

Connecting for Good co-founder Michael Liimatta said he has spent most of his career working in social services with the homeless and addicted.  He's now a consultant for non-profits, and said he's acutely aware of the digital divide in Kansas City.

"If [Google Fiber] is going to really impact our community, we want to make sure everyone is going to benefit from it," Liimatta said. "Unless you have bandwidth, you're just not going to be able to access some of the essential tools that our society asks of us to be proficient in."

Liimatta's partner in Connecting for Good, Rick Deane, lives in Rosedale, and he has family members there for whom internet service is too expensive.  Children in Kansas City Kansas's public schools are all issued laptops, but many can't connect to the internet at home.

Liimatta's goal is to create a model that could be replicated elsewhere.  He said Rosedale it is a microcosm of the larger Kansas City area.

"It is a low-income area. A very high percentage of people are minorities, recent immigrants.  There's a lot of children there … there's seniors," Liimatta said.

How It Would Work

Connecting for Good's plan is to splice into the high-speed Google network, and create a lower-priced and lower-speed wifi alternative. Rosedale residents would be able to sign up for basic wifi service for free, and then get more bandwidth at rates of $10, $20 or $35 a month.  Liimatta said this will be for people who can't afford to buy Google's gigabit plan (though the cost of that plan has yet to be announced).

Connecting for Good is in the process of becoming a 501c3 non-profit organization in Kansas, and is just beginning to fundraise. Once they've raised a few hundred thousand dollars, and once the Google fiber-optic cable is laid, Liimattta said he would be able to get the wifi network up and running in about six weeks.

The group has been working closely with Wendy Wilson, president of the Rosedale Development Association.  According to Liimatta, Wilson has been thinking for years about how to bring the community together.

"How [can she] let residents know what's going on?  How do we communicate all kinds of concerns in the best possible way?" Liimatta said. "Having a completely wired community is a wonderful chance to bring it together, and then if we have a physical space, even better yet."

E-Community Center

Connecting for Good also envisions an "E-Community Center" for Rosedale, which has no community gathering spots at all. The center would provide the internet at Google's full-force gigabit speeds.  Liimatta hopes it could become a launchpad for budding online entrepreneurs.

Google's Reaction

According to the Kansas City Star, a Google spokeswoman "applauded the group's effort to bridge the digital divide, but declined to say if Google would object to anyone essentially reselling the search company's internet service."

This story was produced for KC Currents, which airs Sundays at 5pm with a repeat Mondays at 8pm. To listen on your own schedule, subscribe to the KC Currents podcast.