Wild West city in the fast lane

Kansas City is mostly known as a Wild West town, for tornadoes, and for being smack bang in the middle of the US.

Kansas City is mostly known as a Wild West town, for tornadoes, and for being smack bang in the middle of the US. But Google Fibre's entry into the city's telecommunications market last year has given KC another claim to fame.

Kansas beat more than 1000 rivals to be the first US city to welcome Google as a television and internet service provider. Once solely a digital company, Google has now added digging holes in the physical world to its services.

Those holes are filled with fibre-optic cables connecting KC homes to the web at one gigabit per second - 100 times faster than speeds usually offered by current providers.

Google prices the superfast connection at just $US70 ($78) a month. For an extra $US50 subscribers can add Google TV. These are the company's first moves towards being a total telecommunications company.

But beyond wow-factor speeds and excellent price plans, the project's impact remains difficult to quantify.

There has been no overnight transformation but locals hope to see the city - now tagged "Silicon Prairie" - become a global leader in innovation due to its superfast connection.

"The normal way to gauge economic development is by the creation of jobs but one thing with the technology industry is that it's about taking the human out of everything," said Ryan Weber of KCNext, the Technology Council of Greater Kansas City. "We will look at how the city fares in retaining big companies and also attracting others," he said.

"Google Fibre is now an asset for start-ups seeking investment."

"We're not going to become Silicon Valley but there is an opportunity for leadership," said Aaron Deacon of KC Digital Drive, a local organisation born from Google Fibre's arrival, who highlighted similarities with Australian's NBN deployment.

"Google Fibre catalysed activity around a next-generation of telecommunication infrastructure that was not on the civic radar before," he said. "There's a whole new awareness of future needs but there are still a lot of people who don't get it."

The KC start-up community is among those who do "get it", having created "villages" in parts of the city where Google Fibre is deployed. Matthew Marcus, from Kansas City Start-up Village, said the implementation of Google Fibre had boosted the local tech and entrepreneurial community.

"Google Fibre was a lightning rod," he said. "People will [now] come here because of fibre but also enjoy the energy and community."

Mr Marcus spent five years working in Australia and remembered, not fondly, wrestling with slow internet speeds. "Do companies [really] need one gigabit of service?" he said. "We've had it for several months and it is really tough to use that much. But what it allows people to do is step outside their confines and dream."

Google did not respond to requests to comment but cities in Texas and Utah are the next urban centres on its planned fibre rollout. Potential advertising dollars and the opportunity to be an ISP and TV platform appear to be an alluring mix for a company seeking ubiquity.

"Being a cable provider is a big departure for [Google] and they want to get that piece of the business right," Mr Deacon said. "Then we will see them experiment more on what kind of businesses they can put on top of that."

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