Google Fiber is expanding beyond Kansas City. Granted, it's only going 30 minutes down the road to Olathe, Kansas, a suburb with about 125,000 residents. What has people really excited, though, is this phrase in Google's recent announcement: "Hopefully, this is the first of several announcements that we'll be able to make about bringing Google Fiber to additional cities in the KC metro area."
Up to this point, Google Fiber has seemed like a grand experiment. People in other parts of the country could only gawk at the gigabit internet service (about 100 times the average broadband connection) and interactive TV service, all for $120 a month, and then search for apartments in Kansas City on their comparably snail's pace internet connections.
The Verge believes "this sets an important precedent: Google is serious about expanding its service." During the New York Times Dealbook Conference in December, Google chairman Eric Schmidt said that Fiber "isn't just an experiment, it's a real business and we're trying to decide where to expand next," according to Engadget. The company, however, hadn't made any definitive plans to expand beyond Kansas City aside from pending agreements to move into the tiny city-adjacent neighborhoods of Westwood, Westwood Hills, and Mission Woods.
Those Fiber negotiations may perhaps be held up for the same reason that negotiations stalled in other cities: In some areas, government officials were forced to extend promises they made Google to other internet service providers such as Time Warner Cable and AT&T, according to the Kansas City Star. In Olathe, city officials aren't expediting permits or promising "staff dedicated to answering Google's questions the way other cities have," says the Star, meaning that Google will get its first taste of what installing its service would be like in cities that aren't bending over backwards for it.
The big question about Google's Fiber expansion — beyond Olathe's seeming luck — is, of course, whether the superfast service will eventually come to your town. That's certainly what major internet service providers should be nervously wondering, says TIME's Sam Gustin:
Many observers believe that Google's ultimate goal is to shame the legacy broadband giants like Comcast and Time Warner Cable[...] by demonstrating that vastly faster broadband service is possible in the United States. Improving U.S. broadband speed and penetration is important for Google, because the more people who use broadband internet, at faster speeds, the more Google searches get executed, and the more money Google makes. [TIME]
So how likely is nationwide expansion? Charlie Osborne at ZDNet points to a recently announced initiative by the FCC for the "the U.S. government and internet service providers to ramp up efforts to provide gigabit ethernet speeds in at least one community in each state by 2015" in order to "help breed innovation and boost local economies." It seems Google, aside from its own business interests, also has a federal mandate to support its potential Fiber expansion.
The area around Kansas City is already being called the Silicon Prairie, a nickname loaded with high-tech, economically hopeful connotations that other communities around the country would surely love to have. "We believe this is just the beginning," analyst Rich Greenfield told TIME. Millions of internet users and Netflix streamers sure do hope he's right.