Why a Google Fiber Deal Fell Apart in Kansas

Denys Prykhodov / Shutterstock.com

Earlier this month, the world’s fastest Starbucks opened up in Kansas City, Missouri—fastest as in Internet connectivity, thanks to a direct connection to Google Fiber and not the speed of the pumpkin-spice-latte-production process.

It’s no secret that Google has been investing a lot of resources to deploy high-speed gigabit Internet speeds in the metropolitan area in recent years, so it’s no surprise that a local Starbucks would be used to show off its abilities to provide lightning-quick connectivity.

But across the border in Kansas, Google hit some roadblocks to bring its fiber service to a sprawling suburb along the Missouri stateline. And now AT&T is promising to fill the void by offering its own high-speed Internet service.

Google has been fairly vague about the reasons for its decision to pull out of Leawood, a fast-growing Johnson County suburb with a population of around 33,000 people. In a recent email to potential fiber customers in Leawood, Google said expansion there would “require a much more difficult construction effort and schedule than planned,” according to The Kansas City Star, forcing it withdraw.

City officials told local media that a confidentiality agreement with Google kept them from disclosing what led to the deal’s demise.

But documents obtained by The Star and KSHB-TV through public records requests confirm what many had suspected: Leawood’s ordinance that mandated that any new utility infrastructure be installed underground created difficulties for Google, which has stated that one of the key elements for fiber expansion is the ease of using existing local infrastructure.

The agreement between Google and the city stated that the company would be able to install its fiber infrastructure on “streetlights, traffic signals and similar city-owned infrastructure.” But later correspondence between Google and Leawood officials, according to KSHB-TV, shows that that infrastructure would not be available for Google to utilize and that as a new entrant under the city's ordinance, the company would have to install its fiber infrastructure underground.

“While we appreciate Leawood’s desire to direct all new infrastructure underground, the city’s prohibition on new market entrants using existing aerial infrastructure is a significant barrier to the construction of a new network,” a Google Fiber employee wrote the city, according to the television station.

Google canceled its agreement with the city back in July but didn’t tell potential customers it would be pulling out of Leawood officially until late last month. The Star’s editorial board recently opined that “Google’s longtime secrecy about how it conducts its operations in the Kansas City area appear to have kept potential customers in Leawood in the dark far longer than should have been necessary.”

What’s next for higher Internet speeds in Leawood?

When Google Fiber pulled out of Leawood, AT&T said it’d be stepping in to offer gigabit connectivity in the suburb, according to The Star, but it’s not clear just how quickly AT&T will be able to offer gigabit connectivity in Leawood. Although AT&T has existing capacity data cables in the suburb, it would need to install so-called “last mile” connections between those lines and homes, the newspaper reported.

(Photo by Denys Prykhodov / Shutterstock.com)

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