Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Kansas City Kansas Gets Google's Gig Network

50, 000 to 500, 000Google announced that Kansas City (in Kansas) will be the location of its fiber-optic gig network. Congratulations to the people of Kansas City!

Googgle will build a 1 gigabit network in Kansas City that will be available to every person and institution in town. A gigabit is 1000 megabits—in a nation where the most common speeds are something between 1 and 10 megabits that is a quantitative change that promises to make a qualitative difference. Google will also provide the weight of its own resources and especially its research arm to support the effort.

Google has been straightforward about the purposes of the network. It believes that modern ultra-high speed internet has been lagging in the United States and that it should be possible to build new fiber networks that are both faster and cheaper than the old copper networks of the incumbent providers. It also hopes to show such networks can be run successfully as open networks; that is, as networks that allow anyone to offer services over the fiber. But Google was unable to name any companies that had committed to use its network. That will have to happen fast as they've promised to launch the network in 2012. Getting any of the incumbent phone and cable networks to offer service over superior but locally-owned fiber has been a major stumbling block for other community-based networks that hoped to make a go of the open network model.

 The question, especially for the 1,100 other cities and towns whose applications were not as successful as Kansas City's, will be "Why them?" We're unlikely to get a clear answer but one thing that Google prides itself on itself on is its adherence to "data-based" decision making. (Example) So I tried to see Kansas City through that lense. The first thing that leaps out is that KCK (Kansas City, Kansas) is in the middle...in a lot of senses. It's about midway on a line between the geographic center of the lower 48 states and the population center of the country. It's also about the right size—about 150,000 people— between the  50, 000 to 500, 000 that to which they'd originally committed. And if you take a peek at KCK on wikipedia you'll find that the demographics are pretty middling too...a sizable minority population and a high-middle income level. So its a nice middle-american kind of city from which to get their implementation data. If it works in Kansas City.

Well at least now Lafayette will have someone to envy the way that others envy us—Google's KCK network will be faster than ours by the same sort of factor that ours is faster than the rest of the country's. Until we fix that. There's also comfort in the fact that one of our own will be leading the technical effort for Google. The real upside, for us and the country is that another community-based network will be lit up and in position to light the way.

Welcome aboard Kansas City.

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