In the news these past few weeks are stories about how entrepreneurs are flocking to Kansas City because of their first implementation of Google gigabit fiber. There is an entire “Startup Village” (KCSV) and Techstars co-founder Brad Feld is even getting into the act by buying a home for startups.
But here is a dirty little secret: If you already have a KC-based business, you are out of luck when it comes to being the first on your fiber block. This is because Google is giving priority to residential installs.
The KCSV and Feld’s house are trying to make it easier, by buying up old homes in the fiberhood and opening them up to startups who would like to hang out, code and connect. Feld, for example, is offering free rent in one of his three bedrooms for the right person. And if you just want to stop by for a visit, you can pay $39 a night weekdays (breakfast not included, sorry) to rent one of the Hacker House rooms on Airbnb.
The rates for Google fiber are certainly attractive: you can sign up for a free plan for 5 megabit down, 1 meg up for just a $300 initial purchase. Google will guarantee no other payments needed for the next seven years. If you want the full gigabit monty, that will cost you $70 a month, more if you want cable TV bundled.
KC isn’t the first gig city, (or pair of cities, actually, as there are two KC’s – one in Missouri and one in Kansas) and the areas that are wired are still pretty rare. Getting little press so far is that Chattanooga TN has had gigabit connections for several years now, and what is more, has wired up every single residence and business location in more than 600 surrounding square miles.
What is Google doing wrong and what can they learn from Chattanooga? Several things:
1. Building fiber is more than just Internet. While you can point out civic pride (and KC has plenty to go around, which is wonderful to see), or as a mechanism to attract broadband geeks with startup ventures, there are other reasons you want gigabit fiber in your city. What made Chattanooga’s fiber network work was the backing of its municipal electric utility as a means of improving its power delivery system. Having a smarter grid minimized power outages. Once they had capitalized their fiber grid, the ‘Net followed.
2. 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 entered in the Google Fiber showroom address to see if there was fiber connectivity, and was told that business addresses aren’t in the initial round of installs. Harrumph.
Chattanooga was able to attract a new Volkswagen auto assembly plant and an Amazon.com distribution warehouse because of many reasons, but having a ubiquitous business fiber network was certainly one of them. And smaller entrepreneurial efforts have blossomed everywhere around town, unlike the KC efforts that can only happen in the first fiberhoods and only inside residences for now.
3. Work directly with academia and City Hall. Chattanooga figured out early on that they needed a university-based research partner to help establish a supercomputing center and a way to help license and commercialize new technologies. They also got the municipal government involved, and the city has more than 50 different apps that make use of their ubiquitous fiber connection, such as apps to monitor street and traffic lights and road conditions. Both will eventually come with Google and KC, just because of Google’s size and impact.
Google is doing something right, however. The price point on the symmetrical gigabit service is ultra cheap, and much less than Chattanooga’s gigabit service (for $300 or so a month, depending on other options and bundles).
And if you want to move your business to America’s first gig city, Chattanooga is once again sponsoring its Gig Tank business plan competition this summer. The top prize for a business willing to relocate is $100,000. That is a lot more than free rent in a shared bedroom.