Kansas City, both the one in Missouri and the smaller one in Kansas, has an unusual Internet problem — the Google Fiber network they fought to get is too fast, and nobody is really sure what to do with all that power.
Neither city is considered a prime location for technology company start-ups, reports The New York Times, and the average household doesn't need online speeds that can run at one gigabit a second, or about 100 times faster than the average connection elsewhere in the United States.
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Google Fiber set up its fiber-optic network, which includes cable television and the super high-speed Internet, just over three years ago. According to Google,
its high speed service offers "Instant downloads" and "crystal clear high definition TV."
Just how fast is Google Fiber? Computer programmers testing the service set up a project to determine how many photos of cute kittens could be downloaded in one second on the network, and found they could bring in 612 pictures. In comparison, the average connection in the United States would take about two-and-one-half minutes to download that many photographs.
Google Fiber General Manager Kevin Lo, said his company is working patiently to determine the network's outcome.
"We need to encourage developers who have great ideas, but we also need to build a critical mass of people who can use those applications," he said in an e-mail. "You need both for the breakthroughs to happen."
But there are no applications that take advantage of that kind of online speed, reports The Times, and since Fiber is only located in a handful of cities, it isn't yet a priority for tech companies to develop any.
“I wish there was one thing where I could be like ‘Dude, get ready, this thing is going to blow your mind,’ ” said Matthew Marcus, co-founder of the Kansas City Startup Village located on State Line Road, which divides the two cities.
There have been several ideas, though, including high-speed cameras in crime-ridden areas and using the speed in a model home so that new Internet-connected appliances can be tested.
In addition, the Kansas City Public Library is trying out a service that will let users check out data-heavy programs such as video-editing software.
Meanwhile other organizations, such as the Mozilla Foundation and U.S. Ignite are sponsoring coding sessions to create apps, while linking developers with funding sources in hopes of taking advantage of Fiber's high speeds.
The lack of apps may be a problem for Google as it seeks to prove the fiber network's value and spread the service. The company has expanded Fiber to Provo, Utah and Austin, Texas, and is discussing service with nine other metro areas, including Chattanooga, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Portland, Ore.
Chattanooga already has its own fiber network, Chattanooga Gig,
which offers the same speeds as Google Fiber, but keeps the system under local control.
The network is already paying off. "When Volkswagen announced Chattanooga as its headquarters for North American manufacturing, and Amazon.com chose our city for their new distribution centers, it was a nice confirmation that we're on the right track," the network says on its website.
Critics like Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told The Times he'd rather see Internet service under local control, not under the control of Google or another national cable company, such as Comcast. However, he said, Google is the better choice, "but it's a false choice."
Municipal networks like Chattanooga are not as likely to collect user information like Google does, Mitchell said, because they don't sell ads.
Fiber may be prompting other companies to increase their speeds. AT&T announced in April plans to introduce its own gigabit-speed service, and already offers it in the Texas cities of Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin.
Meanwhile, Google is price-competitive with other much slower broadband services. Fiber costs $70 for Internet alone or $120 to combine Internet with high definition cable television.
Google isn't saying how many people have signed up, but an independent study found about a third of lower-income households have signed up, as have three-quarters of homes located in areas whose residents earn $100,000 or more a year.
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