Google Fiber Brings Threat and Opportunity for ISPs

James Nelson has been offering Internet access to folks in Kansas City since 1995 through his ISP KCnet, where he is president and chief executive, but today marks a turning point in his business.Wednesday morning, Google named Kansas City, Kan., as the home for its 1 Gigabit fiber-to-the-home network that currently dwarfs what all but a few towns in the U.S. receive. As the head of the largest local independent ISP in the area, Nelson is both excited and worried about Google's moves into his region.

Google has said it plans to share its fiber-to-the-home network with other ISPs. I'm not sure if AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable, which all provide service in the metro area, will take the search giant up on its offer, but Nelson says he wants to.

"This is definitely a mixed bag for us, because Google will be attracting away some of our broadband customers, and at the same time we can leverage that network to offer our own services," says Nelson. "Plus, it's great news overall for Kansas City and tremendous for economic development and business growth here."

No Ban on Municipal Networks

KCnet, which is based on the Missouri side of Kansas City, provides DSL and VoIP to more than 10,000 customers and television through Dish Network. Nelson says that because the service area where he provides Internet access is mostly business, offering an IPTV service doesn't make economic sense yet—but with Google Fiber, that might change. He suggested Google might have been so enthusiastic about Kansas City, Kan., after the city on the Missouri side tried to build its own metro network to serve the municipality. It was sued in 2005 by Time Warner Cable because Missouri is one of the states that forbid towns from building out their own networks. (Texas is another.)

As for keeping customers after Google comes in with superfast service, Nelson is philosophical. "We are known for our support," he says, "so we will have to differentiate ourselves between our experience and support and those that show up out of the blue to offer service."

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