Entrepreneurs recently flocked to Kansas City for an experimental implementation of Google gigabit fiber. The Kansas City Startup Village (KCSV) is using that fiber, and Techstars co-founder Brad Feld is getting into the act by buying a home where entrepreneurs can live and work.
But here is a dirty little secret: If you already have a Kansas City business and want to be the first on your fiber block, you are out of luck. Google is giving priority to residential installations.
Feld, the KCSV, and others are trying to make things easier for startups by buying up old homes and opening them up to entrepreneurs who would like to hang out, code, and connect. Feld is offering free rent in one of his three bedrooms for the right person. Or you can rent one of the Hacker House rooms on Airbnb for $39 a night on weekdays (sorry, breakfast not included).
The rates for Google fiber certainly are attractive. You can get 5Mbit/s of download speed (and 1Mbit/s of upload speed) for seven years and pay nothing but an initial fee of $300, which can be spread out over the first 12 months. If you want the full gigabit monty, that will cost you $70 a month, or more if you want it bundled with cable TV.
Kansas City isn't the first gig city (pair of cities, actually -- there's a Kansas City in Missouri and a Kansas City in Kansas), and the areas that are wired are still pretty rare. Chattanooga, Tenn., has had gigabit connections for several years now but has gotten little press so far. What's more, Chattanooga has wired up every single residence and business location in an area covering more than 600 square miles.
What can Google learn from Chattanooga? Several things:
- Building fiber is more than just Internet. In addition to being a source of civic pride (and there's plenty of that to go around in Kansas City, which is wonderful to see) and attracting broadband geeks with startup ventures, there are other reasons you want gigabit fiber in your city. What made Chattanooga's network work was the backing of its municipal electric utility, which saw a way to improve its power delivery system. Having a smarter grid minimized power outages. Once the utility had capitalized its fiber grid, the Net followed.
- It has to go everywhere. When done correctly, gigabit fiber becomes a community asset that can benefit both small and large employers, so wiring up just homes is somewhat self-defeating. As a test, I checked whether the Google Fiber showroom address had fiber connectivity. I was told that the business addresses wasn't included in the initial round of installations. Harrumph. Chattanooga was able to attract a Volkswagen auto assembly plant and an Amazon.com distribution warehouse for many reasons. Having a ubiquitous business fiber network was certainly one of them. Smaller entrepreneurial efforts have blossomed everywhere around town, whereas the Kansas City efforts are limited for now to the first fiberhoods and residences.
- Work directly with academia and City Hall. Chattanooga figured out early on that it needed a university-based research partner to help establish a supercomputing center and help license and commercialize new technologies. It also got the municipal government involved. More than 50 city apps now make use of the ubiquitous fiber connection, include software to monitor street and traffic lights and road conditions. These will eventually be features of Google's Kansas City initiative, just because of Google's size and impact.
Google's Giga Bundle
Google Fiber offers gigabit Internet for $70 per month, or $120 per month with TV included.
However, Google is doing something right. The symmetrical gigabit service is ultra cheap. Chattanooga's gigabit service costs $300 or so a month, depending on the options and bundles you choose.
But if you want to move your business to America's first gig city, Chattanooga is once again sponsoring its Gigtank business plan competition this summer. The top prize for a business willing to move there is $100,000. That's a lot more than free rent in a shared bedroom.
— David Strom is a world-known expert on networking and communications technologies. He has worked extensively in the IT end-user computing industry and has managed editorial operations for trade publications in the network computing, electronics components, computer enthusiast, reseller channel, and security markets.