Prairie Village officials Monday night voiced reservations about service agreements for Google Fiber but the crowd on hand made clear its approval with Tweets and cheers.
By JONATHAN BENDER
Special to The Star
As residents of Prairie Village and neighboring towns looked on, the council voted unanimously to approve three agreements with Google, despite concerns about the company’s negotiating tactics.
The agreements collectively enable the tech company to roll out its high-speed broadband and video service in Prairie Village. While the city has approved Google to be a new service provider — Time Warner, SureWest and AT&T also have service agreements in place — the starting date of that service is up in the air.
“The most popular question is usually when and we don’t have an answer for that,” said Google community manager Rachel Hack, who attended Monday’s meeting. “But when an agreement is reached, the network design begins immediately.”
City Administrator Quinn Bennion explained that in discussions with Google, the company had made it clear that it was still assessing exactly how it would roll out its services in new markets based on its experiences to date. He also suggested there were several logistical issues to be ironed out if things progress to the implementation stage, such as the potential placement of equipment or the housing of that utility equipment (what Google commonly refers to as “huts,”) on city land.
The clock, however, is ticking for Prairie Village as the contract stipulates that the company’s offer of a free public Wi-Fi and broadband set-up in as-yet-determined public buildings is good for 10 years from the starting date of the contract.
“This was a frustrating process,” said City Attorney Catherine Logan. “Google told me that this was the agreement that I was to bring to our governing body. And if they don’t approve it, Google would withdraw.”
Even though Logan expressed concerns over hard-line negotiating tactics of Google and the contractual obligations governing potential maintenance and utility costs, the allure of the one-gigabit-capable fiber network and feedback from constituents led the council to move forward.
“We’ve all gotten e-mails. Our residents are excited,” said Council President Dale Warman. “I don’t think they quite understand what cities are faced with if they agree to do this. But now this puts us in the position that we are the reason they’re being denied Google. They’ve put us between a rock and a hard place. I’m sure it’s not by accident that it turned out this way.”
Councilwomen Laura Wassmer and Ruth Hopkins were bothered that Google was under no contractual obligation to come to Prairie Village. The agreements allow Google to come to Prairie Village but don’t require it to.
Wassmer and Hopkins suggested that even after Google arrives, the service might not live up to the hype.
The argument of what might not be failed to trump what might be for Councilman Michael Kelly, who saw this as a chance for Prairie Village to be on the “cutting edge.”
“Time Warner has been here since the dinosaurs walked along Mission Road and I think it’s about time there was at least the potential for radical change,” added Councilman Steve Noll.
Prairie Village is not the only municipality in Johnson County having this discussion. Logan said that Google is also apparently in negotiations with Lenexa, Overland Park, Fairway, Roeland Park and Mission Hills. Representatives of Overland Park and Merriam attended the council’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
“We don’t want to be the only city looking in,” Councilman Ted Odell said. “We need competition in Prairie Village.”
Prairie Village is now the 12th area city to reach a deal with Google on its Fiber service. More than half of those cities are in Johnson County with Olathe, Mission (which announced its own agreement on June 26 of this year), Mission Woods, Shawnee, Westwood and Westwood Hills waiting for Google Fiber to be rolled out.
“The strategy here is to have more dominoes fall. The more cities that approve, the more pressure there is,” said Logan.
“Have any cities said no to Google?” asked Councilman Odell.
“Not that I’m aware of,” replied Logan.
Sean Reilly, Overland Park’s communications manager, attended Monday’s meeting in Prairie Village.
“The city of Overland Park in the past and currently continues to express its interest to Google that it offer Google Fiber service in Overland Park,” Reilly said.
Google announced in March 2011 that Kansas City, Kan., would be the first city in the country to have Google Fiber. The company, based out of Mountain View, Calif., also has signed deals in the past six months to expand its network to Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah.
“Welcome to town,” said Prairie Village Mayor Ron Shaffer following the council’s vote.
“Welcome to the Fiber family,” replied Hack.