May 2, 2013

Shawnee may get Google Fiber

Shawnee appears poised to make a deal to bring Google Fiber and its ultra-fast Internet service to town.

Google Inc.’s plans to sell TV and jet-speed Internet service in the Kansas City market continue to expand.

On Thursday, Shawnee officials announced a special city council meeting Thursday night “to consider an agreement that would allow Google Fiber to provide service in Shawnee.”

That would make Shawnee the fifth Johnson County municipality to strike a deal bringing the much-sought service to compete with cable and telephone companies for TV and Internet access subscriptions.

A Google spokeswoman confirmed the company has an agreement awaiting approval from the Shawnee City Council.

So far, Westwood, Westwood Hills, Mission Woods and — most recently and most significantly — Olathe have all made pacts with Google to bring a network that strings fiber optic lines to homes and supplies commercial strength Internet hookups at home consumer rates.

So far, only a few neighborhoods in Kansas City, Kan., have been connected to the network. A few more homes in Kansas City, Mo., are scheduled to get the service this month.

Google has not asked for direct subsidies or tax breaks in previous cities. Instead, it has exacted assurances from local government and local electrical companies that its construction work — hoisting lines onto utility poles, digging trenches to put down cables and other labor-intensive jobs — would not be tangled in red tape.

Google has continually been careful not to say how far it might expand its service. It’s said it wants to make an impact in the Kansas City market, but has never promised that it would reach deep into the suburbs.

Overland Park and several other Johnson County towns have yet to reach terms with Google. And Kansas City remains the only city in Missouri that’s made an agreement to bring in Google Fiber.

The deal in Shawnee may signal that Google plans to fill in the spaces between Kansas City and Olathe in its expansion.

The company announced recently that it would build a network in a second market — Austin, Texas — in the next year. It also purchased an existing fiber optic network in Provo, Utah, that it will use to sell the service.

The company first announced it would launch Google Fiber in this market two years ago, promising hook-ups for Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan.

At the low end, it offers relatively slow broadband free for seven years after customers pay $300 for installation. At the high end, for $120 a month under two-year contracts, it offers cable-like TV programming and Internet hook-ups capable of pushing data at rates of 1 gigabit per second. Those top speeds offer downloads 100 times faster than most U.S. home service and uploads 1,000 times quicker than the norm.

It’s unclear when Shawnee residents might be able to buy service through Google Fiber.

The company’s plans have fallen behind schedule several times. By its latest reckoning, construction in a large, central swath of Kansas City and across Kansas City, Kan., will stretch to the end of this year. Then it will move to southern parts of Kansas City and areas of the city north of the Missouri River.

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