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Google lays out schedule for neighborhoods
[September 14, 2012]

Google lays out schedule for neighborhoods

Sep 14, 2012 (The Kansas City Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Eighteen months after the Kansas City area was picked from 1,000 applicants for Google's rollout of the country's speediest broadband network, the Internet giant Thursday finally answered the most-asked question of all: When is ultra-fast Internet going to be available in my neighborhood According to the construction schedule laid out Thursday, Google Fiber's Internet and TV service will become available in 180 of the 202 so-called fiberhoods by the end of next year.

The Hanover Heights neighborhood in Kansas City, Kan., is the first, getting hooked up as early as next month. The first hookups on the Missouri side aren't set to begin until spring, in the Crown Center area.

Google made its announcement Thursday in a blog post.

"We're really excited about this for a few reasons," project manager Kevin Lo said. "First, it means that residents in 89 percent of Kansas City, Kan., and central Kansas City, Mo., fiberhoods will be able to get brand new, next-generation Fiber connected to their home." But secondly, he said, the number of neighborhoods being hooked up was "entirely built by demand." To qualify for the service, between 5 and 25 percent of the residents of any particular area had to show their interest with a $10 refundable pre-registration fee.

As promised, the first homes to be hooked up will be in the areas that expressed the greatest demand. Hanover Heights was the first neighborhood in KCK to meet the threshold of interest Google had set for it.

Some 22 neighborhoods fell short of Google's sign-up goals and will not be getting the service in this first round. Most of them, as expected, were in a predominantly poorer area east of Troost Avenue.

However, the digital divide was far less pronounced than first feared, thanks to an aggressive, last-minute marketing campaign by Google and the dogged efforts of neighborhood groups that didn't want current and future residents to be left out. The divide is now nearer Prospect Avenue.

The firm launched its registration campaign July 26. The deadline for signing up was midnight Sunday, although residents of qualifying fiberhoods needn't have pre-registered to be eligible to buy the service.

Anyone living in those areas can register beginning now by going to the Google Fiber website.

The service is not available to businesses yet, but an announcement is coming soon, Google said. No decision has been made when the Northland and other parts of the metro area will be eligible. This initial rollout was confined to most of KCK and much of Kansas City south of the Missouri River.

Customers can choose one of three packages.

For $120 a month, they'll get ultrafast Internet and TV service while speedy Internet service alone costs $70. Both come with a two-year contract, for which the company will waive a $300 installation fee.

Customers who only want regular Internet broadband will pay that fee -- which can broken into 12 payments of $25 -- but in exchange will get regular-speed Internet service free of charge for seven years.

Google has no plans to offer phone service.

Tougher sell Sign-ups in many moderate-income to affluent areas were quick to qualify, ensuring that Google would string cables down their streets and run a fiber-optic line to their house, unlike the copper wiring used by other Internet and cable TV providers.

Google had a tougher sell in poorer neighborhoods, where many people don't currently have Internet service or even, in many cases, computers. A last-ditch push over the weekend to convince residents of the value of the Internet erased some of that divide.

The final map shows large swaths of green east of Troost, indicating that neighborhoods like Ivanhoe, Vineyard Estates and Key Coalition would not be shut out.

Neighborhoods that fell short, such as Washington-Wheatley and Paseo West, are in yellow and will get another chance to sign up, Google announced on Sunday, reversing its previous position that neighborhoods that didn't sign up in this first registration "rally" would be locked out for good.

That assuaged the fears of community and neighborhood groups that were concerned their areas would be locked out of Google's plan to provide free service to libraries, schools and other community buildings.

Google had promised to provide free, high-speed Internet service to public buildings in qualifying fiberhoods. In all, some 104 schools, seven libraries, 22 public safety facilities and 23 other community buildings will be getting that free wi-fi service that, at one gigabit, will be 100 times faster than anything that is available in the area now.

All public KCK schools will be hooked up, Google spokesman Jenna Wandres said, much to the delight of district officials, who have long been trying to bridge the digital divide in a district where many kids are from low-income families. Students were already being issued laptops, and Google's promise of free Internet service will help more of them get connected when they take their computers home, school spokesman David Smith said.

"For us," he said, "it's that issue of closing the digital divide that is central to the work we do." In Missouri, of the six Center School District buildings that were eligible for service, all but Center Middle School made the cut.

Likewise, two schools in the Kansas City, Mo., district will miss out on receiving the free, high-speed service this round -- East High School and Banneker Elementary -- but it would have been worse without the hard work of many volunteers, school board president Airick Leonard West said Thursday.

"We put together a phone bank and effectively worked non-stop the last five days," West said. "Our concerted effort closed the books on 25 fiberhoods." West is confident that the rest of the east side will qualify in the next sign-up period, and so is Aaron Deacon, a member of the Social Media Club of Kansas City, who launched an effort to encourage sign-ups known as the Paint the Town Green Initiative.

He thinks all the attention this time around built awareness that Internet connectivity is essential in today's society, whether it's for school work or to apply for a job.

"This whole campaign has put this issue on the agenda," he said.

The day arrives On Thursday afternoon, a few people wandered out of the rain into Google Fiber's headquarters -- just across the street from the first fiberhood to get the service, Hanover Heights (Rainbow Boulevard to State Line Road, Olathe Boulevard to 43rd Street).

They wanted to figure out where they and their own fiberhoods stood on Google's construction roster. Some stuck labels on a wall-size map to mark their spot in the Fiber universe. Others stood alongside Google employees to find out when they could expect the gigabit connections in their living rooms.

Jeff Dalin looked on as Christina Komonce pulled up the rank of his Missouri Edison School fiberhood: 58th out of 60 on the construction list. His area in south Kansas City isn't scheduled until fall 2013.

Dalin was a little disappointed, but he's OK with waiting.

"If this is the way of the future, I want to make sure we take full advantage of the opportunity," he said.

Dalin, a student at Johnson County Community College, said he uses the Internet to watch educational videos from schools such as MIT -- he's currently learning about differential equations.

"The two hours I spend in class twice a week is not enough for me to absorb the subject," he said.

Bigger bandwidths would cut out lag time and buffering, he says.

Nearby, Italian restaurant Cupini's was considering ways to put Fiber to use -- once businesses are included. Live cooking demonstrations could benefit from faster speeds, said owner Eddie Cupini. So would a Google Hangout video chat that would let people call in for recipe advice from the chefs.

"We'll be able to communicate with a broader group of customers and people from all over the world, maybe," Cupini said.

The restaurant, partnering with Google, already has two laptops set up so customers can see the ultra-fast speeds in action.

A few doors down, Aimee Sanita of Circle Tax & Accounting said she'd be happy to pay $15 more than her current Internet bill -- if Google offered a Fiber plan for businesses.

"I think I've got some pretty slow speeds for a business," she said.

Sanita said local businesses were excited, especially when they heard some places, like schools and libraries, would be getting Fiber for free. Her own business does the bulk of its work online, accessing bank accounts and using online programs.

Bigger TV package While much of the focus has been on the company's promise of fast Internet service, Google's TV service also differs from those of its competitors.

People who sign up for the TV/Internet bundle will get three devices to stream wi-fi and store large amounts of data and TV shows. Viewers will be able to control their TV with a Google-provided Nexus tablet, their own smart phone or an old-fashioned remote control. They'll be able to record eight shows at once and store 500 hours of programming.

When the sign-up campaign began, the company had some significant gaps in its channel offerings that were deal-killers for many sports fans. ESPN wasn't on the list, nor were other Disney Corp. channels. But the company promised it would add channels as things went along and delivered on that pledge with periodic announcements of added channels.

The biggest of those announcements came on Wednesday, when Google said it finally had made a deal with Disney, meaning the Google cable package will include, in addition to ESPN, the Disney Channel, ABC Family, Ovation and many others.

Big gaps remain, however. As of now, the company's cable TV offerings are missing the likes of Fox News, Turner Classic Movies and HBO because of a failure to reach deals with News Corp. and Time Warner Inc.

To neighborhoods marking their calendars for when Google crews will be arriving in their neighborhoods, the company asked for patience. A harsh winter or other factors could change the schedule.

"But we plan to be as transparent as possible if our estimates change," Lo wrote, "and we'll post any new information on our website." That address is

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738 or send email to [email protected]

___ (c)2012 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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