Overland Park & Leawood

Non-deal with Google stirs Internet tempest

Faced with a possible future without Google Fiber, Overland Park residents are taking to the Internet to voice their frustration.

Several have emailed the mayor and city council, while others turned to Facebook and Twitter.

Nearly all of them are unhappy with the way the agreement between Overland Park and Google Fiber was handled — and fell apart. Overland Park and Independence are the last two large suburbs that haven’t made deals with the company, and Google has said it has moved on from Overland Park.

Attorneys on both sides had negotiated for months on the details. At its Sept. 15 meeting, the city council reviewed the agreement, which states Google intends to create a fiber network that would be capable of Internet speeds of up to one gigabit per second within the city. It might also provide a WiFi network and free service in public facilities, such as schools and libraries.

Many council members, however, expressed concern at the meeting about whether an indemnification clause might one day leave the city with a massive bill to repair damage in the construction process. In order to address the confusion before a vote, Google requested a continuance until October.

At its next meeting, Oct. 14, the council was ready to sign the agreement with Google, having all its questions answered. But Google decided too much time had passed and asked the city for an indefinite continuance.

The stall has some Overland Park residents seething, with most of them blaming the council for not signing the agreement without question back in September.

More than a dozen of them reached out to Mayor Carl Gerlach, expressing their unhappiness towards the delay, according to emails obtained by The Star.

“This is downright embarrassing,” one resident wrote to Gerlach after the Sept. 15 meeting. “For Overland Park to be the only metropolitan city in the area to lawyer up and refuse to welcome Google Fiber and high speed internet is ridiculous. If the city council, which you lead, continues to mess around and Google just finally moves on down the road to one of the hundreds of other cities waiting to welcome them, the citizens and businesses of Overland Park will be living in the digital boondocks while everyone around them moves forward.”

The writer went on: “How can you all be so pig-headed and slow to move?”

In response the same day, Gerlach wrote the resident the same lengthy, detailed email that he wrote others, explaining that Overland Park does want Google Fiber, but the indemnity concerns could not be ignored.

But Gerlach began that email with an additional sentence: “Before you start calling people names and burning bridges I would hope you spent some time gathering information.”

Several emails to the mayor came from residents working in the technology field, admonishing the governing body for allowing Google Fiber to slip through its fingers.

Many of them pointed out that they are willing to relocate out of Overland Park to purchase a home in a city that will have Google Fiber.

Again, Gerlach responded in detail to each of the residents that the city is ready to embrace Google Fiber with open arms, but pointed out there had been questions the council needed answered beforehand.

“On Sept. 16, the city council asked for clarification regarding the city’s financial liability exposure relative to the proposed agreements,” he wrote back to one resident on Oct. 24. “Councilmembers, as part of their abilities as elected officials, approve policies that encompass legal and financial matters. The concern was researched and addressed.”

He also emphasized that even if Google does eventually sign an agreement with Overland Park, nothing is set in stone.

“I’m confident the lawyers will work out a mutually agreeable solution, but remember even when an agreement is reached, Google will not commit to a time frame of when they will bring their service to our homes or even ‘if’ they will ever bring the service,” Gerlach wrote to another resident. “Google holds the right to build in some areas of our city and not in other areas. They also stated that the order of which the cities sign the agreements will not affect the order they build out of their system.”

Irritated residents are also lashing out on the Facebook page “Google Fiber for Overland Park, KS,” which currently has 670 members. The majority of the comments on the page are negative, with some people even talking about voting against current council members in upcoming elections because of the situation. But a few residents went against the grain, suggesting the council wasn’t dragging its feet out of spite, but simply out of due diligence.

“I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the city’s intentions,” commented Facebook user Chris Smith. “I doubt they were trying to delay this and miss the boat. What would the reactions be if the city rushed into it and Google got OP by legal cojones down the road?”

Facebook user Angela Cutter agreed.

“I want Fiber bad BUT just because you want something doesn’t mean you let Google make ‘our way or the highway’ type demands of your city,” she commented. “It’s the city’s job to protect our assets and infrastructure — not put us at risk so we can have zippy internet. They did say yes, after all — just not on Google’s timeframe. I think we’re directing our anger the wrong way. I’m mad at Google at this point for putting us through this dog and pony show for nothing.”

One of the people following both sides of the story with riveted interest is Kansas state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, who serves east-central Overland Park as part of the 19th District. Many of her frustrated constituents have tweeted her throughout the entire process.

While she sympathizes with them, Clayton also understands the council’s point of view.

After all, she points out, it is the council’s job to investigate every detail and to make sure the city and its residents are protected. It’s the most important part of the process, she said.

“It was an agreement that needed to be looked over very carefully, which I know is not the popular thing to say,” Clayton said in an interview. “There are a lot of legal ramifications involving such an important deal and the best way to ensure a smooth transition is to ask a lot of questions so there are no surprises later on. I do hope Overland Park residents have access to this product soon because I know a lot of people really want it.”