Sunday, February 24, 2013

Google Fiber attracting startups, creating nationwide buzz

By ROB ROBERTS, The Lawrence Journal-World

If you want to know why Google Fiber is such a big deal, talk to Matthew Marcus.

Marcus, the chief technology officer for Local Ruckus LLC, owns the home at 4454 State Line in Kansas City, Kan.

In addition to housing the social media calendar company he and CEO Adam Arrendondo run, the home was the site of the first public installation of the new 1-gigabit Google Fiber service in the world’s first “fiberhood” — dubbed Hanover Heights, though it also includes the adjacent Spring Valley neighborhood.

Google Fiber had undergone beta testing prior to last Nov. 13, when 4454 State Line was linked to the ultrafast Internet service. “But this one was the first one people watched,” Marcus said. “It was a zoo.”

So Marcus decided to join the five or six television news crews in filming the historic occasion, which started with work outside the home. Then, wanting to share it with the world as quickly as possible, he dashed to the residence where he lives to upload his 11-minute, high-definition video onto YouTube.

“Using another ISP who shall remain nameless, it took 13 hours to upload that file,” Marcus said.

After the Google Fiber installation was complete at his business address, Marcus added, the same video took 20 minutes to upload.

According to Arrendondo, web entrepreneurs like him and Marcus have yet to discover how they will harness the amazing upload and download speeds — about 100 times faster than most residential broadband connections across the country.

“But you sure notice the difference when you use the computer at home,” said Tyler Van Winkle of Leap2, a mobile search application provider and one of three startups that have joined Local Ruckus at 4454 State Line. “You get spoiled here.”

Marcus and Arrendondo helped launched KC Startup Village last year to attract more early-stage firms like Leap2 to their neighborhood and a cluster of others on both sides of the state line.

The idea behind KC Startup Village, a nonprofit venture, was to build a critical mass of startup businesses to help and energize each other as in Silicon Valley, “where you can’t go to the coffee shop without seeing other startup companies,” Arrendondo said.

Benjamin Barreth, another KC Startup Village organizer, last year opened Homes for Hackers, a house at 4428 State Line that offers rent-free accommodations for three months to help selected startups get off the ground.

According to Barreth, his original idea was to try to get a number of area homeowners to offer a spare room to a startup in each of their homes. But after he learned that none of the six homeowners who signed on would be getting Google Fiber in their neighborhoods until summer 2013, he decided to buy a house in the first Google fiberhood for hosting the start.

Barreth, who makes all the mortgage and utility payments, is employed as a web developer.

“This is just a hobby,” he said of Homes for Hackers.

Fortunately, he added, Google has helped minimize the cost of that hobby.

“The cost (for Google Fiber) is $70 a month, which is more than basic cable with Time Warner,” Barrett said. “But you get a whole gig. I live in Overland Park and pay almost 50 bucks for 15 megabits per second.”

According to Marcus, the local startup village would have grown even if Google hadn’t decided to launch Google Fiber in the area.

“But Google Fiber provided the rallying cry,” Marcus said. “It’s the sweetest icing we could have put on the cake.”

Ironically, Google Inc. didn’t even intend for its initial Google Fiber installations to include businesses. Home-based businesses like the startups at 4428 and 4454 State Line “got in under the radar” because they’re located in structures that appeared to be residences, Marcus said.

Google has not yet indicated when it might launch Google Fiber applications for large businesses. Neither has it announced a timetable for spreading the residential service beyond Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., to areas like western Wyandotte County.

One reason the Kansas Cities were chosen as the starting point for the high-speed Internet and cable-like television service was the ability to work with single providers in each city — the Board of Public Utilities on the Kansas side and Kansas City Power & Light in Missouri — on agreements to share space on utility poles, said Jenna Wandres, policy communications associate for Google Fiber.

Wandres said Google hoped to be through with the build out of the initial 180 fiberhoods in Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., by the end of this year.

Those fiberhoods, including 69 in Kansas City, Kan., qualified for installation through online preregistration by residents last year. Those neighborhoods with the highest preregistration percentages were put at the top of the installation list. Thus the Hanover Heights/Spring Valley area, where 56 percent of residents signed up, moved to the head of the class.

A complete list of Kansas City fiberhoods and the dates when their installations are expected to be completed can be found at

After those 180 neighborhoods receive service, Google will turn its attention to Kansas City North, South Kansas City and three small cities in northeast Johnson County. In addition, Kansas City neighborhoods that didn’t meet the original qualification thresholds of 5 percent to 25 percent preregistation will be given a second shot at qualifying.

Besides serving homes in the region, Google Fiber is being installed free in Wyandotte County government buildings and public schools, ramping up hopes for more efficient online services for those institutions and their stakeholders.

If all goes as well as expected locally, Marcus said, Google Fiber will likely become ubiquitous, a fixture in homes and businesses across America and beyond.

In the meantime, Google Fiber is creating incredible nationwide buzz for this region, said Greg Kindle, president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council. And he expects that to translate into accelerated residential and commercial development.

“Good Fiber was the No. 1 technology newsmaker in 2012; the Facebook IPO was second,” Kindle said. “This has truly given us international exposure you couldn’t even begin to purchase.”