Google: Kansas City Fiber Deployment Is On Track

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Google and officials in Kansas City, Kan., said the Internet giant's ambitious fiber-to-the-home project in the region remains on schedule to go live for the first customers in the first half of 2012, denying that pole-attachment issues are slowing down the buildout.

After selecting Kansas City, Kan., in March 2011 for the fiber network, Google -- which aims to provide symmetrical 1 Gigabit per second Internet access -- has been mired in a "dispute" about how aerial fiber should be connected to utility poles in the city, according to a report Wednesday by The Kansas City Star.

Under Google's deal with the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities, the municipal power and water provider that owns the utility poles, the company has the option of attaching fiber either in the space reserved for telecommunications for the standard pole-attachment fee or in the electrical supply space for free (although the latter is costlier because it requires more highly skilled technicians).

But both Google and the Kansas City BPU said the pole-attachment provision is not a source of contention.

"Pole attachments are only a small part of this huge network that we are building, and we are focused on getting every detail right as we begin construction," Google spokeswoman Jenna Wandres said.

David Mehlhaff, public affairs officer for the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities, said there have been no issues in working with Google. While the project remains generally on schedule, he said, delays are inevitable with any large-scale infrastructure project of this nature.

"There really isn't a single development project where things don't take longer than planned," Mehlhaff said.

Google had previously said it would start the signup process for customers in Kansas City, Kan., in the fourth quarter of 2011. The company decided to delay that process until the fiber buildout was closer to launch. Google has not announced expected pricing or other details of the fiber service.

Over the last six months, Google has employed 100 workers in the city to perform site surveys for the eventual fiber buildout, according to Mehlhaff. Google has hired Atlantic Engineering Group (AEG), based in Braselton, Ga., for the initial fiber construction, which is scheduled to begin within the next few months.

Eventually Google expects to cover Kansas City, Kan.'s population of 147,000, over an area of about 127 square miles. The company has pledged to provide free 1 Gbps access to more than 130 government owned buildings in Kansas City, including schools and libraries.

Google first picked Kansas City, Kan., then expanded the FTTH project to include neighboring Kansas City, Mo. -- which has a population of about 460,000 -- as well. "We have a great working relationship with the Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., governments," Google's Wandres said.

On the Missouri side, Google's deal with private Kansas City Power & Light stipulates that the company may attach fiber only in the telecom-designated area of the poles.

The incumbent broadband providers in the area, which include Time Warner Cable, AT&T and SureWest Communications, are watching the Google project closely.

But regarding Google Fiber, "it's hard for us to really know what to expect and talk about -- because it's a product that doesn't exist," said Matt Derrick, director of communications for Time Warner Cable Kansas City/Lincoln. "I think they're figuring out it's more complex than we make it look sometimes."

Within the next 30 days, TWC will have deployed DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem service throughout its entire footprint in the greater Kansas City region, offering Wideband Internet with up to 50 Mbps downstream (5 Mbps upstream) for $99.95 per month as a standalone service, Derrick said. The MSO has been planning the upgrade for some time, he said, and is not related specifically to Google's imminent entrance into the market.

Google kicked off the fiber hoopla in February 2010, announcing the "Think Big With a Gig" contest to foot the bill for the buildout of a 1-Gbps FTTH network somewhere in the U.S.

The point was to create an ultra-high-speed test bed that would showcase next-generation Internet applications -- and push for government policies that facilitate super-fast broadband. The "Think Big With a Gig" contest wound up generating applications from more than 1,100 communities.

In late 2010, Google hired Milo Medin, former chief technology officer and co-founder of the cable industry's ill-fated @Home Network venture, as vice president of Google Access initiatives. Kevin Lo is the general manager for Google Access overseeing the Kansas City buildout.

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