Google Inc., announced last spring that Kansas City, Kan., landed the search engine’s super-speed Internet project, but disputed details within the original agreement over wires and fees have created a troublesome hurdle, and lawyers and engineers are still attempting to find middle ground nearly 10 months later.

The local community was nicely suited for hanging Google’s cables, so it vied against 1,100 other United States localities that were courting the Mountain View, Calif.-based Company and its ambitious Internet plans. Subsequently, KCK became known as the first “Gigabyte City” or “Fiber Town.”

“Since we announced our plans to build experimental, ultra high-speed broadband networks, the response has been tremendous. Hundreds of communities and hundreds of thousands of individuals across the country have expressed their interest in the project,” said Google on its Fiber Network website.

“We’re planning to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States. We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We plan to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people,” Google added on its official blog.


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The March 2011 agreement (PDF) reached between the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, which owns the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities and its utility poles, and Google was extraordinary, because the globally popular technology giant chose to bring a modern, game-changing project to the town without requesting tax breaks or other often-leveraged incentives that lure businesses. Google noted the primary reason it came to KCK centered upon local officials’ ability to move quickly and make the project work.

However, almost a year’s time has already been lost. The apparent dawdle stems from how and where Google can hang its data-flowing glass wire. The unforeseen kink in the historic digital-age infrastructure upgrade involves just 60 words in Google’s original agreement, and it indicates Wyandotte County officials and Google failed to mind the intricate details of their heralded deal.

In a single-paragraph clause in the agreement, Unified Government allowed Google to place the fiber optic lines in the same space typically used by cable television and phone companies. The clause also said the existing rates would apply to Google; however, it further explained Google is restricted to the BPU’s electrical supply space. This highly regulated zone is designated for power lines where rates and fees are exempt. Therefore, the freebie, as the document elaborated, would serve as a reimbursement for Google delivering the gigabit-per-second Internet connection to over 130 local schools, libraries, city buildings, and other locations.

Google’s avoidances of fees were exchanged with the problematic job of installing cables delicately close to electrical wires. Moreover, the dispute over the rules highlights what competing cable companies said is a blatant act of favoritism.

Google and the BPU are computing ways to keep the cost of the project from escalating while avoiding safety and service issues for electrical customers in Wyandotte County. In allowing Google special lenience in where the wires can be hung, the BPU is countering guidelines set by Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in the National Electrical Safety Code that states any communication or nonelectrical supply lines should be at least 40 inches below the power supply.

The BPU has the authority to override safety codes and place communication wires among power lines, but such a feat requires highly trained journeyman linemen technicians, who command hourly rates almost 50 percent higher than telecom space workers.

Google can choose to pay the market rates for placing its fiber optic, just as AT&T and Time Warner Cable currently do, or it can undertake the costs and complications of threading amid the delicate electrical supply space. Furthermore, communication cables need steel wrapping to ground and protect them from being close to high-voltage wires, and when hung lower on the poles, fiber optic lines require plastic sheathing.

Google claimed it would begin KCK customer signups for the service in the fourth quarter of 2011, and the company planned to power-up the fiber optic network in the first quarter of 2012. Obviously, its plans have not come to fruition, but Google said it is still implementing intense effort into engineering the project.

Unified Government Mayor Joe Reardon contends the agreement has not fallen behind schedule, meanwhile Google has not publicly acknowledge any significant delay either.  With that said, the company has yet to announce how much it will charge KCK customers for the Internet service when —and if— it is implemented.

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