Among some similar reports elsewhere, the New York Times published a story earlier this month with the title “Two Cities With Blazing Internet Speed Search for a Killer App”. The sub-headline explained that:
“Both Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., have Google Fiber, a high-speed fiber-optic network, and are having a hard time figuring out what to do with so much power.”
Considering the woe and anxiety of the people that the reporter interviewed in these two cities, you might call this the angst of the gig cities. I’m not normally critical in these blog posts, but for those of us without gigabit connections to the world, this angst doesn’t generate much sympathy and makes us wonder about the thought process of some folks.
Let’s start with the headline that bemoans the fact that there is no single killer app yet to justify the gigabit bandwidth, but that they are still looking for one. Back in the days when PCs were first introduced, supposedly the spreadsheet was the killer app that sold those computers. And graphics was the “killer app” that sold the Mac originally.
But I’m not sure there is any single killer app for a fundamental technology like communications. Was there one thing that drove increased phone usage 50 years ago? Was there only one “app” that drove people to the web more recently?
The story also had this observation:
“[The] managing director of the KC Digital Drive, a nonprofit that is trying to figure out new ways to use Google Fiber, said people were expecting too much. So instead of something otherworldly, [he] said the more likely outcome would be souped-up versions of things that already existed.”
How sad. To use an analogy, even though they’re driving high-powered new cars, they’re talking and thinking “horseless carriage”, not sports car.
I can’t believe the communities that are complaining they don’t know what to do with gig lack imagination, but that’s the way it comes across in this article. Surely there are creative people in Kansas City – not just software developers – and they ought to be challenged to come up with many ways to wow the rest of the residents.
The article goes into a bit of an aside about the various ways cities have deployed broadband – Google Fiber, conventional telecommunications providers and home grown. I haven’t seen enough research about these Google Fiber cities or other cities that have accomplished a similar build-out by themselves.
Perhaps, though, the problem of not knowing what to do with gigabit connections is greater in places where the community didn’t have to organize itself as much in order to get that bandwidth. By contrast, cities, like Chattanooga, which had to work harder to build out its own network perhaps have deeper cultures of innovation and entrepreneurship – which is why they supported their own gigabit build-out to begin with.
There’s also a big gap between a gigabit connection and the more typical few megabits that most Americans seem to witness much of the time. I suppose that’s also part of the gig cities’ problem. Perhaps they are feeling lonely. It’s a bit like being the only person in town with a phone in the old days.
Maybe the new gig cities would find more things to do if they’d only begin to connect to other Americans at even a tenth of that speed.
© 2014 Norman Jacknis