Google's plan to wire Kansas City, Kan., gets tangled up in wires

Kansas City StarJanuary 18, 2012 

When Google Inc. announced last spring that Kansas City, Kan., had landed the tech company's much-pursued super-speed Internet project, the company gushed about the local utility poles.

They were flush with space nicely suited for hanging Google's cables.

What's more, the city and county governments are one, and that same Unified Government of Wyandotte County owns the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities and its utility poles. That figured to make negotiations over installing Google's fiber easier.

Now it turns out that differences over where and how to hang wires on those poles, and what fees or installation costs may be required, have created a troublesome bump in plans to launch the project at "Google speed."

The issue was dealt with in just 60 words in Google's original agreement, but nine-plus months later engineers and lawyers are still trying to settle on common ground.

That hiccup in what figures to be a historic digital-age infrastructure upgrade in the city suggests that Google and Wyandotte County officials failed to mind the devilish details of their pact. The deal was hailed last spring as critical to landing Google. The California company said one reason it came to Kansas was because local officials could move quickly to make the project work.

Google has declined to comment on the dispute and delays that have set back the work in Kansas City, Kan., by months.

"We still don't have an approval of the agreement," said David Mehlhaff, a spokesman for the BPU. "Within the next week or two we ought to be able to hammer out the final details. We're moving forward."

Yet time has already been lost. Google has yet to publicly acknowledge any significant delay in the project. In an interview, Unified Government Mayor Joe Reardon insisted the project had not fallen behind schedule.

That stands at odds with public declarations made in the hoopla of Kansas City, Kan., being picked for the project in late March.

Google said then that it would begin signing up its first customers in the fourth quarter of 2011 and light up its service in the first quarter of this year. To date, while the company says it's been putting intense effort into engineering the project, it hasn't begun to sign up customers.

It still hasn't, in fact, announced how much it will charge customers. It has not begun installing the fiber optic network needed for its service. And its prediction of beginning service has slipped to the first half of this year. Just how many months have been lost is difficult to sort out, especially with both the Unified Government and Google refusing to say.

That apparent delay stems from how, and precisely where, Google hopes to hang its data-shuttling glass wire.

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