Prairie Village formally approves Google Fiber agreement — but with some bruised feelings

Google Fiber Community Manager Rachel Hack faced some "disappointed" members of the Prairie Village City Council Monday.
Google Fiber Community Manager Rachel Hack faced some “disappointed” members of the Prairie Village City Council Monday.

The Prairie Village City Council on Monday voted unanimously to approve an agreement that paves the way for Google to bring its high-speed Fiber Internet and television service to the city — but not without a good deal of trepidation.

Over the course of 45 minutes prior to the vote, City Attorney Catherine Logan of Lathrop and Gage gave the councilors an overview of the process that produced the agreement before them, noting that it essentially came with an ultimatum.

“What you have before you is very much a take it or leave it agreement,” Logan told the council. “Unless Google changes their minds. Which I doubt they would do.”

Logan had been in negotiations with Google since early May over the terms of an agreement, but after a series of exchanges over desired revisions, Google’s attorneys informed Logan that if the council did not approve the agreement as presented, Google would “remove Prairie Village from its expansion plans.”

Among the provisions of the agreement that gave members of the council pause are a requirement that the city allow Google to build a housing structure for some of its equipment on city property, and a not-precisely-defined requirement that Prairie Village foot the electrical bill for equipment related to free public Wi-Fi zones.

“This agreement is not without risk,” Logan said. “There are provisions in here that I would have taken out if I could.”

A number of councilors expressed their frustration with the negotiations — noting that the agreement the city was considering doesn’t even explicitly compel the company to offer its services in the city.

“We’re all placing a bet,” said councilor Laura Wassmer. “We’re all betting on something that is a complete unknown.”

But the prevailing sentiment proved to be that, for all the unknowns, the agreement may bring in a cutting-edge technology that will expand competition and give residents more options for television and Internet services.

“Time Warner Cable has been here since dinosaurs were walking down Mission Road,” said councilor Steve Noll. “It is time that something came in and shook the scene up.”

A handful of residents in attendance cheered when the vote was completed.

Google representatives weren’t on hand for the extensive preliminary discussion and vote on the issue during the Council of the Whole meeting that precedes the formal council meeting, but Google Community Manager Rachel Hack did appear before the council as they considered their final vote.

Councilors Wassmer and Ruth Hopkins used that opportunity to voice their concerns directly to Google’s representative.

“I am excited to have Google coming here, but I’m disappointed in the business practices,” Wassmer said. “This ‘my way or the highway’ approach doesn’t necessarily sit well. It has dampened my personal enthusiasm.”

“I hope that going forward,” said Hopkins, “you would be more open to an actual dialogue rather than a mandate.”

Hack told the council at the meeting that while the company can’t offer a timeline for availability of the service in Prairie Village, “network design begins immediately.” She refused to provide additional comment on the record after the meeting.

City Administrator Quinn Bennion noted during the discussions that Google had told the city it may or may not use the “Fiberhood rally” approach it employed to select areas for its early buildups in Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., if and when it starts looking to roll out its products in Prairie Village.