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Kansas City Slow To Connect With Google's Super Fast Internet


And we also mentioned the first place that got Google Fiber, the Kansas City metro area. It's been two years since Google announced it would build its first fiber optic network there. Residents hoped that by now they'd be using the Internet at super fast speeds, but as we hear from Sylvia Maria Gross of member station KCUR, it's taken a little longer than expected.

SYLVIA MARIA GROSS, BYLINE: Startup Village is a little strip of limestone bungalows on Stateline Road, which divides Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas. It's where the gigabit Internet was first turned on last fall.

PHIL JAYCOX: Four doors down, there's actually four startups and then two doors down from that, there's commercial buildings with three startups and another startup, Pipeline, moving in this week.

GROSS: Programmer Phil Jaycox recently moved here from St. Louis. He's living at the Home for Hackers, which offers three months of rent-free housing to budding Internet entrepreneurs. Jaycox is developing a mapping program for delivery services and he's using the gigabit connection to play around with 3-D imaging. He says, even more than bandwidth, geeks are coming to Kansas City for networking, the people kind.

JAYCOX: That I can walk four houses down and bounce an idea off of four different companies and they can be like, hey, that's a good idea or, hey, that's terrible, or you should quit - that's what's cool about it.

GROSS: Some of the techies who did a stint at the Home have decided to stay in Kansas City. One has even moved his business team here from Boston. But so far, only 3 or 4,000 people are connected and it's taken about a year longer than expected to get it up and running. Meanwhile, Kansas Cityans have been brainstorming the possibilities of a new information infrastructure.

Aaron Deacon is managing director of a new organization called KC Digital Drive.

AARON DEACON: There is part of the project that is: what specific kind of cool things can I do with having Google Fiber in a building. But there's still the broader project and the much larger project of what are the systematic changes that we need to effect in order to really use this.

GROSS: Local governments and businesses are trying to figure out how the new technology could transform sectors like education, health care and the arts. Deacon says it's not really about the technology, but defining goals for the future.

DEACON: Having the technology in place forces people to really focus and sort of like recalibrate and say, like, oh, OK, the future is a little bit closer than maybe we thought it was and so we really need to accelerate and think about how to approach these challenges in a smart way.

GROSS: Deacon says Google Fiber has attracted funding for business incubators and other digital ventures like Code for America, which helps local governments engage with citizens online. One way Google Fiber is already making a difference is in the marketplace. Other cable operators are offering all sorts of deals for conventional broadband, and Google Fiber is pricey, $70 a month or 120 if you include Google TV.

MICHAEL LIIMATTA: The city is going to become one of the most wired cities in America and we just don't want to see tens of thousands of families left out with no connection at all.

GROSS: Michael Liimatta heads the nonprofit Connecting For Good, aimed at bridging the digital divide. He's disappointed that Google Fiber is only coming to neighborhoods where enough residents sign up, leaving out the poorest communities. Originally, Google had said it would help bring its high speed Internet to those who don't have access. Still, Liimatta credits Google with starting the conversation.

LIIMATTA: Even if Google is not necessarily the vehicle for achieving a lot of this stuff, they certainly are to be praised for at least getting us on a track where we're thinking about this.

GROSS: And now with Austin breathing down Kansas City's neck, there's more urgency than ever to show what Google Fiber can do for a city. For NPR News, I'm Sylvia Maria Gross in Kansas City.



You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Maria Gross
Sylvia Maria Gross co-hosts and produces KC Currents, an award-winning weekly news magazine that covers news and culture in Kansas City’s diverse communities. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace, The World and Studio 360. Gross grew up in New York City, Brazil and the suburbs of Washington, DC. She studied English at Yale University, and then spent a year researching arts education in Brazil on a Fulbright grant. When she returned from Brazil, she taught middle school math and English while completing a master's degree in journalism at Columbia University in New York City. She reported in New York about education and culture before moving to Kansas City in 2004.

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