Google holds first community meeting on planned high-speed Internet service

Some 500 people crowd town-hall-style meeting with a barrage of questions

0 | Community Health, Telemedicine

Some 500 people gather at the first monthly town hall meeting organized by Google to accepted input on its Google Fiber project.

Some 500 people gather at the first monthly town hall meeting organized by Google to accepted input on its Google Fiber project.

— About 500 people attended Google's first town hall meeting held here Wednesday night, where company officials fielded questions about the Google Fiber project.

The plan to give Kansas City, Kan. ultra high-speed Internet connectivity was announced last week by company and local government officials. It will be rolled out in Wyandotte County before anywhere else in the country.

When launched in 2012, Google Fiber will provide broadband Internet service that the online giant says will be 100 times faster than most Americans use today.

It has been hailed by state leaders, including Gov. Sam Brownback, who said it would boost the University of Kansas Cancer Center's bid to gain federal designation as a National Cancer Center and also could help telemedicine services provided by the KU Medical Center, which has its main campus in Kansas City, Kan.

Matt Dunne, Google's community affairs chief, responded to scores of questions from the sometimes boisterous crowd that packed into the Reardon Civic Center well before the 5 p.m. meeting started.

More than 100 people were left standing along the edges and back of the seating area, flowing out into the atrium. The event, by Dunne's admission, attracted a much larger crowd than anticipated.

"We're not in Kansas City Kansas by accident," Dunne said. "We are here because of the extraordinary work that your leadership has done over the last several years to create a team that can move fast...at Google speed, that has demonstrated a willingness to think outside of the box, and was up front with their interests in partnering with us in developing this next-generation technology," he said.

"We don't know what it's going to bring, because it hasn't been done before. What we look forward to is working with you, whether it's people doing telemedicine at KU or it's people in the school system or it's individual groups that have ideas for ways of using this gigabyte of speed in a way that is innovative and groundbreaking."

Dunne said that Google plans to hold town-hall-style meetings once a month or so to bring "thought leaders" from around the country to help foster ideas in education, entertainment, government, health and other areas.

After an hour and a half, about half the crowd remained and their questions continued.

If there was a dominant theme to the questioning, it was how Google's project would financially impact the community. Would jobs be created? Would Google avail the service to non-profits and other community groups for free or at discounted rates? Would all of the profits return to Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters? What tangible benefits could Wyandotte County expect to see?

Dunne was frank: Google would only be employing two, maybe three, workers in the area for the project, and even those may not be from the Kansas City area. Google does not have plans yet to open a local office, he said, and would likely remotely administer things like customer sign-up and support.

He said construction contracts would likely be awarded to existing Google partners but he did not say whether any of those partners were based in Kansas City. Dunne did not accept questions from the media, saying the town hall meeting was intended to address the community's concerns.

Dunne said at least 130 local government offices — city and county offices, schools, libraries, and the like — would receive the service at no cost. Which offices will receive the service for free would be determined by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, he said. Pricing levels otherwise would not be determined until closer to the launch date sometime in 2012.

"We are making an economic investment in your community," Dunne said. "That's our commitment."

One question was whether Google would make future town hall meetings live via Internet-based conferencing.

"The answer is absolutely, it's a great idea, I'm not sure why I didn't think of it before today," Dunne said, with the crowd erupting in laughter.

"Now there's only one job left for Kansas City!" said someone in the crowd, to even greater laughter and applause.

Dunne answered a range of questions: Has Google Fiber been tested to ensure environmental safety? (Answer: it's the same as existing fiber optic technology.) There were also a few questions that he said he could not answer, such as what are the metrics Google is using for determining whether Kansas City's deployment is a success?

"This is our first (deployment) and we're a company that measures just about everything," Dunne said, noting that how well it is used and what innovations result from it will be measured from the outset.

"Beyond that," he said, " I would like that (question) to be set aside and have that be something that we post on our blog" at google.com/fiber/kansascityks.

Other questions and answers:

Q: How will Google Fiber address the digital divide and make its service available to people who can't afford it?

A: Dunne said the economic and racial diversity of KCK was part of what attracted Google to Wyandotte County and that what the company learns from the experience will help it expand Google Fiber to the rest of the country.

Q: Is Google working with manufacturers to develop computers capable of fully utilizing Google Fiber?

A: Today's computers are already capable of utilizing the service. An iPhone or Android phone has sufficient processing power to maximize Google Fiber's speed of data transmission.

Q: Does Google plan to expand beyond Wyandotte County, across the state line?

A: Dunne said he had no comment on when and where Google plans to expand.

Q: Does Google plan to bundle services, such as cable and phone, along with Internet service?

A: No — everything available on the Internet is what Google will be offering.

Q: Will there be construction projects around the city while infrastructure is laid for Google Fiber?

A: Google's interest in KCK, in part, was because fiber optic infrastructure here was overbuilt. Dunne said that showed a great deal of foresight and went back to the city's railroad heritage. The rail lines connected communities and the rights-of-way happened to be great places to lay "really fat pipes" of fiber lines. He said Kansas City also has great utility poles and that the comnpany expected there would be minimal inconvenience to residents in implementing Google Fiber.

Q: A senior at Wyandotte County High School asked why students should be excited about Google Fiber.

A: Dunne said high school students were the last people Google need to tell why they should be excited. "You know better than I do what the potential is. We're looking to you for those ideas," he said.

Joe Reardon, Mayor of Unified Government of Wyandotte County, was on Bloomberg News in the morning talking about Google Fiber.