Vision Check at Google’s Gigabit (Kansas) Cities

Near the end of June I swung into the two Kansas Cities (Kansas and Missouri) to see how things are going now that the euphoria was starting to wear off from the announcement that Google is awarding both cities a gigabit network. This was probably one of the most anticipated announcement in the tech world this century. But of course, after the euphoria comes the hard work.

I’ve written a two-parter on this broadband adventure too. The initial piece establishes some context for those communities throughout the U.S. that are at various stages of launching their networks.

The Google gigabit deal is a public-private partnership, not some digital version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” When executed properly, all the partners win. Communities acquire infrastructure, resources, services and other goodies that contribute to the public good. The private sector partners do these deals to boost revenue and market share while scoring Good Corporate Citizen points. Don’t underestimate the importance of the former, or over inflate the role of the latter.

When executed poorly, these partnerships become cauldrons of seething animosity, busted budgets and crushed political careers. Constituents lose. Private-sector companies with good lawyers, not so much. Maximizing the positive requires “a strong definition of expectations,” observes Gary Evans, president and CEO of Hiawatha Broadband Communications, a service provider involved in several of these partnerships. “Any consultant can come in and design a great plan, but partners have to get inside of all of that and ask, what do we clearly believe we can accomplish?”

Read the rest of the article to better understand the scope of tasks needed to move these broadband projects forward, even when Google is your partner.

One of the points I made is that Kansas City has to own the process by which their network achieves those economic, telemedicine and other benefits. Google sees its role as primarily facilitating the network infrastructure’s buildout. It rests on the two communities’ shoulders to actually enable the network to make a difference. To own the process, though, requires  a concerted effort to get everyone to come together around a shared vision. This isn’t easy within one city, but here we have two cities in two states that want to unite under one network. In my book, Fighting the Next Good Fight, I suggest an avenue these cities may wish to consider.

To create a vision, you need to answer four key questions: 1) what do you plan (want) to do with the network, 2) what benefits will come from doing those things and how, 3) why is your intended approach better for producing these benefits than what you’re doing currently and 4) how will you financially sustain the network while producing these benefits?

Thoroughly researching the answers to these four questions determine whether, and to what degree, your broadband project will succeed. Distilling the answers down to a 30-second, 90-word summary is your vision statement for the broadband project. Though much is written about the value and virtue of a good vision statement, its real power comes from the process by which you distill a complex technology and the facets of its deployment down to 90 words or less.

It requires a lot of critical thinking, initial planning, some problem solving and idea generating to answer these key question. Once you formulate reasonable answers, and accept that these answers will evolve as you move through the various stages of planning and deployment, you have to do more critical thinking to get to your vision statement. In some ways coming up with an effective summary is a more intense cerebral exercise than uncovering the answers, and usually requires many people participating in the process to come up with the right words.

Luckily, the two cities did a lot of the foundation work for this process while they prepared their respective Google applications. The challenge now is to blend the process from both sides of the state line, involve many of the same people who contributed to the applications and then distill things down to a vision statement that stakeholdlers from KCK and KCMO can agree too.

Yep, it’s tedious and will take longer than some may want to endure. But one of the beauties of process is that it brings diverse people together and inspires them to pull the oars in the same direction. No pain, no gain folks.

One Response

  1. As a Telecommunications Guy in Kansas, the Google project is certainly interesting to watch. Once the infrastructure is in place, many organizations and businesses will want to connect and take advantage of the “Big Pipe” only to find that their internal LANs don’t measure up.

    It’s time for everyone who sees Google as their savior, to make an internal assessment of their last mile.

    I predict that POL will be the next hot commodity.

    Anyone interested can learn more at

    Remember, the performance of any network is no better than it’s weakest link.

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