Google Moving on Up -- to Olathe

Carl Weinschenk
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This week, Google announced the next city for its Google Fiber high-speed network. The company broke its teeth in Kansas City. It’s now time to step it up. Will the next city be a bigger midsize city, perhaps a Pittsburgh or Miami? Or will it take a big step and go for a San Francisco, Boston or even a New York City?

Or, perhaps, Olathe, Kansas.

This is absolutely not a shot at Olathe, which indeed is the next stop for Google Fiber. As a resident of the New York City metro area, the idea of living in a place like Olathe has a great – really great – appeal. Olathe, according to CNNMoney, has a population of about 114,600 and is the eleventh best place to live in the United States.

The question at hand isn’t about bloggers’ quality of life (actually, I wouldn’t leave New York); it’s about what Google is up to. On one level, the company is building out the areas around Kansas City. It also is increasing the level of difficulty. The Week suggests that the company is interested in learning how the other telecommunications companies live:

In Olathe, city officials aren't expediting permits or promising "staff dedicated to answering Google's questions the way other cities have," says the Star, meaning that Google will get its first taste of what installing its service would be like in cities that aren't bending over backwards for it.

That no doubt is true. But the broader question is this: What is the real nature of Google Fiber’s game plan? Google is not a networking company. It makes money delivering an ever-expanding array of products to people’s mobile and stationary devices and finding clever ways to monetize what it delivers. It makes money whether that content is carried over wires and airwaves built, owned and/or maintained by Verizon, Cablevision, Sprint – or Google. The short version: Being a big-time network provider would be a sidelight for Google.

A few months ago, I interviewed Dan Limerick, the co-founder and CEO of RST Global, a smaller carrier that is building what he claims are Google Fiber-level networks in the North and South Carolina area. I asked for his take on Google Fiber:


Limerick … I think Google is not a fiber infrastructure company. Google is an advertising company. They are building a network to show the rest of the country what a fiber network implemented in a large metro can mean.

Weinschenk: You suggest they can use it to target ads on a granular basis.

Limerick: I know when a golf company advertises they want that ad targeted to the people that play golf. That’s what Google wants to show, that what they have is a much more efficient and productive technology than what’s out there right now. </blockquote>

Limerick’s point is well taken. It is hard to envision Google as the next Comcast or Verizon. It lacks the skillset. Google Fiber aside, the company has no background in telecom. It is far easier, however, to see a scenario in which the network builds and the publicity it generates is used as strategic goals for the telecom industry.

The idea may be to build a few futuristic showcase networks to whet the public’s appetite, to show the real players who actually do this stuff for a living what is possible and subtly threaten that if they don’t build such networks someone else will. The goal probably is to do just enough to push the industry forward and thereby extend its real businesses. If that’s the case, the cities and towns applying to become Google Fiber communities – like generations ago towns lined up to host railroads – should take it all with a grain of salt.



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