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April 2010
Woogling…Wooing Google Our Way
By John Paul Galles

     “Imagine sitting in a rural health clinic, streaming three-dimensional medical imaging over the Web, and discussing a unique condition with a specialist in New York. Or downloading a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes. Or collaborating with classmates around the world while watching live 3D video of a university lecture. Universal, ultra high-speed Internet access will make all this, and more possible.”

     This is how Google describes its Google Fiber for Communities initiative that it hopes will make Internet access better and faster for everyone. Google is planning to build, and test ultra-high speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the country that will deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today, with 1 gigabit per second fiber-to-the-home connections, at a competitive rate, using a variety of providers.

     As a first step, they’ve put out a Request for Information to identify interested communities of between 50,000 and 500,000 people, welcoming responses from local government and members of the public.

     They would like to see what developers and users can do with ultra high speeds—whether it’s creating new bandwidth-intensive “killer apps” and services or uses not yet imagined. They also want to learn new deployment techniques, testing ways to build fiber networks and best practices for operation. They promise to operate in an “open access” network—open, non-discriminatory and transparent—with multiple service providers.

     Nationwide the attempts to woo Google have gone over-the-top. The mayor of Duluth, Minn., threw himself into the icy waters of Lake Superior. The mayor of Sarasota, Fla., immersed himself in a shark-filled tank. The mayor of Wilmington, N.C., has volunteered to jump out of an airplane.

     The mayor of Topeka, Kan., has renamed the city Google for the month of March. Duluth has gone even further and videotaped a mock press conference offering to name every male born in the town Google Fiber and enlisted comedian Al Franken to make a humorous video. Madison, Wis., created a “Google Fiber” ice cream flavor—vanilla ice cream with granola and M&Ms matching Google’s logo.

     Cities across the nation have gathered en masse to garner the attention of Google. It’s given a whole new meaning to “March Madness,” and done an impressive job of advertising Google’s fiber network. [Not at their expense; did you notice that?]

     In the greater Charlotte region, Hickory and Lenoir have teamed up to make a pitch for Google’s super fast fiber network. Their budget for wooing Google is $40,000; the estimated price tag for the Google investment is at $750 million to serve one city. Given the collapse of the furniture and textile industries, Hickory and Lenoir view it as an opportunity to transform their economies.

     Gastonia and Mooresville have thrown their hats in the ring as well. Our region has competition from other cities in the Carolinas including: Durham, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Raleigh, Greensboro, Asheville, Winston-Salem and Greenville, S.C., all performing antics of one sort or another.

     Charlotte itself rejected the idea of vying for Google fiber because “it wouldn’t likely be picked.” Although Charlotte broadly defined is above the 500,000 population limit, rather than summarily reject participation, it might have been wiser to narrow its defined area and take a stab at the fiber offering.

     It is surprising that the Charlotte Regional Partnership has not taken the lead to coalesce regional resources behind the interested cities or otherwise offer assistance or resources. With the Google and Apple facilities already in the N.C. Data Center Corridor, any Google fiber location proximate to Charlotte would really make the entire region a cyber powerhouse. We can only hope that the Partnership is supportive of the Hickory/Lenoir, Gastonia and Mooresville proposals or will become so.

     Opportunities like this Google fiber initiative are crucial to support the growth of new businesses and the recovery of existing businesses in our community, as well as the attraction of new businesses to our region. It truly would be a blood infusion to so many of our local economies.

John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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