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Cities jostle for Google network (UPDATE)

By Sean Ryan

Google is searching for communities to fiber optic cable  (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Google is searching nationwide for communities to build a fiber-optic network. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

At least three Wisconsin cities are looking for the best way to impress Google as they compete for the company’s planned fiber-optic network.

Google, an information-technology company based in Mountainview, Calif., plans to build a fiber-optic network to offer high-speed Internet service, and is accepting applications from communities nationwide until March 26.

Milwaukee, Madison and Superior are among the Wisconsin cities in the competition.

The network would give communities an economic edge in attracting businesses, such as video-production companies, that move high volumes of data over the Internet, said Mark Clear, Madison Common Council president pro tem. Clear said installing the fiber-optic network in Madison is estimated to cost $100 million.

“Just that kind of investment in this community is huge,” he said, “and then you start to talk about how this technology could be used.”

Public and private telecommunications providers have been building a network of fiber-optic cables linking Wisconsin cities. The cables replace older telephone wires that transmit information slower.

But cities such as Madison do not have fiber-optic cables connecting to individual properties, Clear said. The old wires connecting to the houses do not carry information as quickly, but a network such as that which Google is planning would complete the circuit to homes and businesses.

There are a lot of unknowns about the Google project, said Nancy Olson, Milwaukee chief information officer. She said that, after reading Google’s request for information, she is unsure how Google will score the communities that apply for the project or what the high-speed Internet service provided by the network will cost customers.

“They’re obviously looking for a community that has a mature, available infrastructure where they can swoop in and implement it quickly,” she said. “I’m sure that’s going to be part of the equation.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be aboveground or below ground.”

Google representative Erin Fors responded to inquiries with an e-mail with links to the company’s request for information.

To respond to Google’s call, cities are assembling information about the number of road miles in their borders and locations of utility poles and existing underground wire conduits. Those existing utilities will determine how much it will cost to build a new network in each community, Olson said.

“That’s a big question mark,” she said. “I would imagine it will depend on the community. If they have to trench underground to lay cable, it will be more expensive than if there is a conduit in the ground they can pull a cable through.”

Lower construction costs could give cities an edge in Google’s rankings, but so could public support that shows people want the service, Clear said. Madison has set up a Facebook page for people to express support of the project, and the city will hold a meeting Thursday night to encourage people to write or e-mail Google.

“Part of what’s different also, this being by Google, is there is certainly a PR element to all of this,” Clear said.

Superior Mayor Dave Ross (see video link below) said his city and the neighboring city of Duluth, Minn., will file a joint application to land the Google network. Duluth will spend $30,000 on YouTube movies, public service announcements and mailings, Ross said.

“These competitions, of course, create certainly a lot of buzz for the company,” he said. “Certainly, whenever cities start competing, it creates an energy unto itself.”

Google has not set a date to select a community or communities in which to build the network, but will do so this year.

Olson said although there are a lot of questions about what being offered, it does not hurt to respond.

“It’s the high availability that we don’t currently have in the city,” she said of fiber service, “and it’s something to look at. The RFI is not a commitment by the city.”




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