September 13, 2014 Jessica Sims
Google Kansas in, Topeka Out: The Capital City of Fiber Optics?

Google Kansas in, Topeka Out: The Capital City of Fiber Optics?

When Google announced plans for a groundbreaking fiber optic network that would offer broadband speeds of up to 1 Gbps directly to consumers, it turned more than a few heads.  Google did not announce exactly where this network would be, and they were rather vague as to how many customers it would serve only offering a somewhat ill-defined range that started at 50,000 and may scale up to 500,000 people.  The question is: what would one do to be one of the lucky consumers to have an ultra-fast broadband connection?

Easier Question: What Wouldn’t One Do?

Answering the question of what would one do for a gigabit connection to the Internet is probably not a good idea, at least not in public.  Let’s face it, there are a lot of things we might do without for such raw, unadulterated speed: beer, showering, a job, a spouse, a limb, and perhaps even a soul.  Would an entire city be capable of having its interest so piqued that it would give something else up?  A sports stadium?  A street?  How about the name of the city, at least for a period of time.

That is the exact solution that Topeka’s mayor, Bill Bunten, came up with.  Until the end of March, the capital of Kansas and seat of Shawnee county will be officially referred to as Google Kansas, the Capital City of Fiber Optics.  In a clear bid to save citizens from leveraging their souls for such speed, Google (the city) has raised the bar in a big way.  It would be nice to see a few tourist traps with a little Google Kansas flavor, but please do not change the delicious barbecue.

Can Anyone Top a Name Change?

With the bar set so high, it is worth questioning whether any other city, county, and/or state can match or beat Topeka’s bold move.  Given the stakes, it is probably best not to say that it will never happen.  Just consider what is at stake: jobs, infrastructure growth, the chance to attract residents and businesses based on a world-leading fiber optic network that is years ahead of the competition, and certainly ages ahead of the 100 Mbps by 2020 standard recently outlined by the FCC.  For some cities, that could be a very major change to their public image, possibly to the point where economies could be saved and tax revenues could return.  If such a change came about, perhaps the name Google Kansas would stick.

Just what would a government body or collective need to do to top the renaming of a city on a temporary basis?  Whatever they do, it is likely to need to be permanent and probably beneficial to Google the company, not the city.  Tax breaks and other incentives are likely to lure the industry titan more than simple publicity stunts, but that does not mean that a publicity stunt does not have to be part of the package.  The problem is that publicity today means little to consumers tomorrow, and even less next week.  By the time that Google’s network is ready, which will probably be measured in years, any publicity offered today will likely be long forgotten.

Will The Competition Keep Up?

The biggest question on everyone’s mind is whether the competition will try to keep pace with Google’s (the company’s) offerings.  The easiest company to draw parallels with is Verizon due to the fact that they offer their own fiber optic system that they refer to as the Verizon Fios network.  Fios is here today, and serving millions of customers with dizzyingly fast download speeds of up to 50 Mbps.  Given the fact that Verizon’s Fios network rolled out of testing and into reality approximately 5 years ago, and the company is already testing faster services, it may not be long before Verizon is somewhere between the 100 Mbps/2020 standard and the 1 Gbps by whenever plan that Google (not the city) has only vaguely outlined.  Being a FTTH (Fiber To The House) vendor, much like Google’s (maybe both) network is expected to be, Verizon’s Fios makes the best apples-to-apples comparison.  Even if the company could sustain a 50% increase in performance every 18 months or so, it would be nearly 2020 by the time that Verizon’s Fios network could reach gigabit speeds.  It is worth noting that Verizon’s Fios network does serve a lot more customers, but those relying on metal wiring have a much longer and harder road ahead of them.

Metal Can’t Can Do Gigabit?

Many customers have gigabit networks in their properties and know full well that metal wires can actually handle gigabit speeds, but these wires are not exactly the same kind of wires that are run from the curb-side boxes to houses.  Many curb-side boxes are serviced by fiber optic cables, which makes upgrading to and beyond gigabit possible, but that is not always the case.  Laying fiber optic cabling right to the property line is probably a better choice than running CAT-6, but it is possible that the entire fiber/gigabit demand might cause a severe shift in price and/or demand for fiber optics.  If that happens, metal wire based network components might see a resurgence in popularity for a while, but it seems unlikely that gigabit to the home will be commonly served with anything but fiber.

Bottom Line: Everyone Wins?

It is too early for a bottom line, but broadband enthusiasts everywhere should be happy to see cities change their names temporarily to try and build public interest in faster broadband services.  The United States is in dire need of rebuilding its IT infrastructure, and may be left in the proverbial dust if it cannot compete with other nations that have faster broadband services.  Google (the company) also benefits from the exposure and faster broadband connectivity, but ultimately the customers are going to win and the country may have been put back on the path to economic recovery with a single gigabit-sized gauntlet thrown down by the town formerly known as Topeka.

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