I’m off tonight to Kansas City (KS and MO, a two-fer deal) for one of my broadband site visits. In case you missed the write-ups, I had a blast on my visit to Chattanooga for two days as I got a glimpse into the future of broadband.
It’s impossible to see all the applications in play and on their drawing board, then continue advocating this notion that wireless will drive our broadband future. Wireless is a supporting technology, but it’s not the real deal. Fiber is our future.
This site visit to the Kansas Cities is a little different from Chattanooga. In Tennessee it was all about assessing the progress that city has made since introducing a gigabit service last September. Though there is definitely a lot of dreaming of things to come, Chattanooga lets you “touch” some accomplishments, let’s you see in real time how a community is transforming itself to embrace a 21st Century digital economy. It also vividly puts the lie to the incumbents’ claim that these networks are bad for business and doomed to failure.
In Kansas, I’m looking at two communities starting from Jump Street. Of course, they’re off to a stronger start than most because they are the recipients of Google’s gigabit city largess. An enviable position. Or is it? That’s part of my mission. To get a feel for how the cities and their stakeholders are positioning themselves to capitalize on all the hard work they did to rise up and prevail over 1,100 other cities for the Google gold.
The main reason for this visit, though, is to spend a little time on the hot seat. The Kauffman Foundation invited me to come in for a briefing session. They read my Chattanooga stories and felt this is the path they want to follow, maximizing broadband’s role as an engine for generating local economic benefits. Just how do you do this is the question. They and I view Kansas City similarly: it will be a great test bed for creating economic development best practices that can be applied in cities nationwide.
For me, this is going to be a good learning exercise as well. Google’s relationship with these cities represents one of the potentially strongest public private partnerships we’re going to see in broadband. How does a city make the best of this without getting trampled underfoot by its much larger partner? How do they manage expectations so constituents’ hopes don’t become so much larger than the relationship’s practical potential that disappointment eclipses success?
Of course, the big question bouncing around the broadband world is, are the Kansas Cities just the beginning of something bigger by Google? Will we wake up one day to find the industry giant on a serious broadband march from America’s heartland to the coasts? Boy, wouldn’t that be cause for much jubilation. And what could the free-market opponents of community broadband do besides reach en masse for the Pepto-Bismol? But wait, I regress. This trip has a narrower focus.
What’s in the deal for the two cities and for Google? And what are their next steps to reach their respective goals? I expect everyone will play their cards close to the vest, but I’m hoping to get a few hints as to the next cards to be played. What are some questions you’d like to have asked (and hopefully answered) about Kansas, the network and of course, Google?
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