Business & Tech
10:02 am
Thu September 6, 2012

Google Makes Final Push For Fiber

Kansas City leaders were thrilled when they beat out 11,000 other cities for something called Google Fiber.  Now residents are competing to bring the blazing fast internet service to their neighborhood first. 

The search-engine company is building an infrastructure to offer households internet speeds 100 times faster than they currently get and has also rolled out its own TV offering.  But Google’s doing things differently than traditional internet providers.

Yvette Roberts is one of about a dozen people stopping at Google Fiber registration event in the basement of St. James Church.

She says she didn’t know what Google Fiber was when she saw it in the Church newsletter.  She puts her most pressing question to Google’s Luke Carlson.

“The major thing that I need to know is do you guys have the NFL Package?” asked Roberts.

“We have the NFL Network and the NFL Red Zone as of right now,” replied Carlson.
She’d be less excited to find out Google hasn’t signed on some other big channels like ESPN to their lineup. They say they’re working on it.

Taking A Different Approach

Google’s doing things differently than most cable and internet companies.  Google’s Kevin Lo says they’re having people do the market research for them.  

“Rather than us decide where and when to build, we decided, ‘Hey, let’s ask Kansas Citians!’ and let us know their interest by literally going to a website and pre-registering,” said Lo.

Google will only bring its fiber service to neighborhoods where enough people pay the 10 dollar registration fee.  They’re relying on excited customer like Roberts who plans to get in touch with her neighbors.

“I will be sending text messages to make sure they get down to the location where the sign up is for our neighborhood,” said Roberts.

If Roberts can’t get enough of her neighbors to sign up, then Google won’t bring the fiber optic cable to her neighborhood.  

Google’s calling this approach a rally, and it looks like a grassroots, political campaigns--complete with yard signs, fliers, and enthusiastic supporters. They’ve even have a pair of ice cream trucks rolling around town to drum up support. 

Crossing The Digital Divide

At a sign up event outside a local community center, Tonya Sipple grabs a plate of barbeque.  She volunteers for the city parks department but faced a problem when she tried to sign up.

“I brought cash and they said they need a debit card at this time,” said Sipple.
Workers tell her she can get a Visa Gift Card at the Walgreens across the street and use it to register.  

This is just one of the challenges Google faces in trying to cross the so-called digital divide. Google’s research shows about a quarter of all Kansas Citians don’t have broadband at home and this skews by race, education, and income.

Google’s Kevin Lo says it comes down to two basic factors--relevance and affordability.
  
“It’s certainly not Google’s role to solve the entire problem, but we really wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to do what we can,” said Lo.

And what they’re doing is offering something they call free internet.  It’s not super fast and it’s not exactly free.  Customers are expected to pay the $300 installation fee and they get normal broadband speeds for seven years.  Christopher Barnickel is the assistant director at the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, where many people now come to use the internet.  He says affordability is only part of the problem.

“Then there’s just the fact of the matter that certain people don’t have computers in the home and if you don’t have computers, what good is the internet?” said Barnickel.

Whether enough people in all neighborhoods will sign on is still being decided.  Google recently made it easier by https://fiber.google.com/about/lowering the number of sign-ups needed to get service after complaints some homes were empty.  The final registration push ends September 9.