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Kansas City has some of the best Internet service anywhere. Providers there compete for customers who can now expect broadband that's about 100 times faster than the national average. But as Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports, four years after Google Fiber landed in Kansas City, people are still trying to figure out just what to do with all that speed.
FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Kansas City is a modest Midwestern place. I mean, we're proud of our BBQ, baseball team, of course. But Aaron Deacon will tell you that now there is something else - inexpensive, world-class Internet.
AARON DEACON: Yeah, it's the best. I mean, maybe Hong Kong's a little bit better than us and Seoul.
MORRIS: Deacon runs KC Digital Drive, a group set up to make the most out of ultra-high-speed Internet available here for 70 bucks a month.
DEACON: You can get faster Internet here than you can anyplace else, and you can get it for cheaper than you can anyplace else because Google chose this market to build out in first.
MORRIS: The network's still not done, but Internet connections running at close to one gigabit-per-second are easy to find.
ILYA TABAKH: My name is Ilya Tabakh. I'm the CEO of Edge Up Sports, and we're sitting at the world's fastest Starbucks.
MORRIS: This one has laptops hooked up to Google Fiber. Tabakh says the difference jumps out on YouTube.
TABAKH: Click on a video - right? - it's loaded. Click on another video, it's loaded; another video, loaded, right? There is no waiting for anything.
MORRIS: Except for a really good use for all this speed. Running normal applications on gigabit Internet is sort of like riding a bicycle on a NASCAR track. For the moment, only a lucky few have any access. Everybody else is still on dirt paths. So you can't make much money figuring out a 200-mile-per-hour bicycle, or to step back from the analogy, an application to maximize truly massive broadband. But Toby Rush, who runs a Kansas City biometrics startup called EyeVerify, says the apps will follow as access expands.
TOBY RUSH: When you can knock down the barriers, you knock down the road blocks up near, you know, infinite bandwidth, real-time, all the time, very cheap, it allows for a lot more digital things to happen, which is great for everybody.
MORRIS: In the meantime, Rush says that the Google has made gigabit speed standard in Kansas City.
RUSH: Everyone else now is following suit, so once again, making this high-speed connectivity a commodity.
MIKE SCOTT: It's a fiber war, so to speak.
MORRIS: Mike Scott, the president of AT&T Kansas, stands by as workers splice fiber-optic cable before sinking it into someone's backyard. Last month, AT&T became the third provider broadly offering affordable one-gig Internet here. Time Warner and other companies have also boosted speeds.
SCOTT: We're literally standing in the trenches of a fiber war, right? And I think the customer ultimately wins in all this competition.
MORRIS: But not everyone's a customer. In some Kansas City neighborhoods, only 1 in 5 households have any type of Internet connection, let alone a fast one. Michael Liimatta runs a nonprofit called Connect Me For Good that's trying to change that.
MICHAEL LIIMATTA: Our center here, you might consider it to be the front lines of closing the digital divide in Kansas City.
MORRIS: Folks from this low-income neighborhood come into the center and use Google Fiber for free, but no one has it in the huge housing project just across the street.
LIIMATTA: Sometimes I'm a little disappointed that some of the expectations we had as far as universal adoption and, you know, loads and loads of free and cheap bandwidth never came to be.
MORRIS: Not yet anyway. And residents are still grappling for uses for superfast Internet. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.
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