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Arts and Entertainment Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 8 years ago

Google Fiber two years later: the Kansas City story

by: Lisa Nisenson

March 30 marks the second anniversary of Google’s decision to install high-speed internet in Kansas City (actually two Kansas Cities: Kansas and Missouri later this year). Sarasota, along with 1,100 other communities, competed for the internet giant’s attention, but eventually KC won out. Last week, SRiQ was in Kansas City and decided to see if the results are living up to the hype.

The answers are "yes," "no" and "it’s coming." There were a couple of things worth noting, given Sarasota’s investment and energy into getting Google here. First, despite Google’s imaginative call for entries, the fix was somewhat in. Kansas City had two important ingredients: first, a location where major communications trunk lines intersect with a willing power and cable company at the ready to help the installation. Second, the monthly pricing scheme is for homes at $120 each for 1 gigabit per second TV and internet, or $70 for internet alone. One gigabit per second is about 100 times faster than average home plans. Thus, businesses are not really the main audience.

Moreover, the service only recently went live, so this article is really about prep, not execution. So what did Google do for KC aside from supplying super fast home internet? Cameron Cushman of the Kaufman Foundation distilled the impact best: Google Fiber made Kansas City have a conversation with itself. Here is what came out of those conversations:

The Chamber of Commerce got active – In the summer of 2011, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce launched what they called the “Big 5” by asking the question, “What would you do if you were the CEO of Kansas City?” The idea was to get ideas related to KC’s strengths (not necessarily just Google Fiber) from every corner of the larger community and pin down five big, doable things. Submissions poured in from several mediums including the Chamber’s website, local radio stations, blogs, community newsletters and emails. While the Chamber was ultimately responsible for the outcome, they formed teams to actually make it happen.The Kaufman Foundation got really active – The Kaufman Foundation is a big patron of all things art, culture and science. But the foundation has now moved into entrepreneurship and neighborhoods. Among the sites are Kaufman Labs where the most interesting concept is something called “1MC,” or 1 million cups of coffee. Launched to help connect employees within the sprawling Foundation, the idea extended to the community and start-ups. These caffeine-infused collisions of people was seen as key to helping match start-ups with people who could help (even beyond funding). But observers are now seeing that it’s not just for ideas and money. These coffees are bringing together people who would never meet, which is precisely what is building a greater, cohesive community.

The start-up community got really active – Google’s pricing scheme has had a couple of effects. First, because it is offered in homes and not businesses, a new model emerged called “Homes for Hackers,” where Google Fiber users rent their houses to entrepreneurs. Because Google Fiber is going into neighborhoods, the effort is more place-based than office-park based, spawning the “KC Start Up Village.

Readers are likely thinking that we already have these activities here. The Chamber has its Sarasota Tomorrow effort with four areas: Higher-paying Careers For Residents, Support For Existing and New Businesses, Creating New Partnerships and Promoting "Green" Business. The HuB is taking initiative in the community rivaling that spawned by Google in KC. Ringling College has its Imagination Conversation with a list of industries such as Young Leaders, Health, Real Estate, Sports and Transportation.

But something does not feel quite right. It seems like there are circles at work right now that yield helpful, but ultimately isolated results. Kansas City offers a glimpse in how to do this better. First, TWIS has been advocating a visioning process that starts with identifying assets and strong points to rally around. Second, as KC shows, this need not be a long affair, but one that commits to touching every part of the community.  Third, holding meeting in halls and meeting rooms is one part of shaping a future, but unless you are chatting people up on buses, on the sidewalk, at fairs and in everybody else’s newsletters, you are bound to fall short.

The lesson from Google Fiber and entrepreneurs is that it’s not about circles but collisions. Google made different worlds collide in KC, so the question is: Can Sarasota do this on its own?

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