One of the things you might want to ask Mayor Sly James about next week in Paris is his city’s experience with Google Fiber, a system that provides widespread internet speeds of a gigabit per second (about 20 times faster than my home DSL plan). Kansas City was the first U.S. test site, selected in March 2011. As he’ll tell you, with the ubiquity of on-line work, connectedness through not only email and text but also video-conference and live-work-sharing, reliable internet speed and access is increasingly becoming an urban policy issue.
Kansas City might not be the obvious choice—why wouldn’t Google choose the fashionable San Francisco, a near neighbor to its headquarters in Silicon Valley? Google was smart to recognize that they’d get more press attention, more political razzle-dazzle, and more community love by choosing an unexpected city.
But they also get a chance to prove the inherent raw power of the internet as economic driver. If companies will relocate and expand in Kansas City (as they have), that’s one more point for the internet trumping some of the other benefits of coastal cities. It will become incumbent on cities to follow suit and at least keep up with a basically reliable internet access system.
Google’s choice should be read as a vote of confidence in a historic city with renewed vibrancy, that has weathered a population decline and turned itself around. Will the promise of gigabit internet help continue that trajectory once other cities have a similar offer?
photo by Neerav Bhatt via flickr; used with permission (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)