Google Fiber’s commitment to install free, high-speed internet service for Kansas City nonprofits is expected to end by January, City Hall says. Roughly 40 nonprofits are left to be connected.
Over the years, hundreds of these organizations have signed up for what’s called Google Fiber Community Connections. Schools, libraries, community centers, even fire stations are fibered-up. So are the Liberty Memorial, Union Station and the Kansas City Museum, according to a report issued last March.
Still, the long-planned end of such installations comes at an interesting moment for Google Fiber and the Kansas City region. By most accounts, the tech giant’s effort to provide widespread high-speed internet here and across the country has slowed to a crawl.
Some promised installations in Kansas City may never take place. Some customers report spotty service. There are rumors the company’s fiber unit is for sale. Last month, Google admitted it missed its installation goal in Kansas City, Kan. and three suburbs.
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So it may be time for the region to assess the impact Google Fiber has had on the community, roughly six years after the firm announced plans to build a network in Kansas City, Kan.
The competition for fiber service, you’ll recall, was intense. Communities fell all over themselves to entice Google to their neighborhoods (Topeka renamed itself Google, Kan., for a month).
The promise? A city wired for the 21st century, with high-speed connections delivering content at blinding speed. Health care, education, travel and entertainment would change dramatically. So would the lives of fiber users.
There have been successes. Tech businesses have sprung up in and around the area, all taking advantage of fiber connectivity. And Google’s competition for your television dollar forced cable companies and digital providers to drop their prices, a welcome outcome.
The so-called “digital divide” persists, although efforts to narrow the gap between digital haves and have-nots continue. Google has helped provide internet access and devices to low-income Kansas Citians.
But even Google Fiber’s most ardent fans would likely concede that high-speed internet has not fundamentally changed Kansas City, as some thought it would.
It turns out medium-speed connections will get most people to the internet as quickly as they want.
There may be a lesson here. Digital technology has undoubtedly transformed our world, disrupting media, entertainment, politics, retail, money management and more.
But the miracle is at the end of the pipeline — the miracle isn’t the pipeline itself. Most Americans now see internet service as a utility, and price remains an important consideration.
That could explain why Google Fiber is rethinking its role in getting digital service to the home.
But Google Fiber hasn’t changed the world, or even this part of it. That will be worth remembering the next time an amazing technology emerges from Silicon Valley.