With deadline near, 600 towns vie for Google fiber-optic network

The experimental Google fiber-optic network promises to deliver the Internet at speeds 100 times faster than the average connection. Communities have been bidding to take part in the experiment, and the deadline for applications is Friday.

John Walker/The Fresno Bee/Newscom/File
Fresno State students wrote and performed a song asking for Fresno, Calif., to be a test city for an ultra-high-speed Google fiber optic network.

Since Google announced plans to bring super-fast Internet service to as many as 500,000 people, bouts of Googlemania have popped up across the US. Mayors jumped in icy lakes and towns renamed themselves after the Internet search giant in hopes of becoming the test bed for its experimental fiber-optic broadband network.

The deadline to apply for the broadband experiment is Friday, and applications are expected to continue rolling in until the last minute.

As many as 600 communities have already made bids for the fiber-optic network, which promises to deliver the Internet to at least 50,000 and as many as half a million people at speeds 100 times faster than the average connection.

“This enthusiasm is much bigger than Google and our experimental network,” said Google’s James Kelly in a blog post Friday. “If one message has come through loud and clear, it's this: people across the country are hungry for better and faster Internet access.”

That hunger was also reflected in a recently released national broadband plan, which outlines a Federal Communications Commission undertaking to vastly expand fast broadband service and make it much more affordable over the next decade. The FCC, as well as all major broadband providers, will no doubt be watching Google as it forges ahead with its test.

Google executives have said they are not interested in getting into the Internet service provider, or ISP, business, but want to experiment with the network to push the limits of broadband and share what it learns with the industry.

“Wherever we decide to build, we hope to learn lessons that will help improve Internet access everywhere. After all, you shouldn’t have to jump into frozen lakes and shark tanks to get ultra high-speed broadband,” wrote Mr. Kelly.

The list of applicants includes big cities like San Francisco, known for its bevy of high-tech entrepreneurs, to small cities like Duluth, Minn., where Mayor Don Ness recently took a plunge into Lake Superior. In Sarasota, Fla., the mayor swam with sharks as part of that city’s bid to get Google’s attention. Other cities have renamed themselves Google for the month of March: Topeka, Kan., became Google, Kan., and Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., became Rancho Googlemonga.

Google says it will make its selection – or selections – before the end of the year. While a few towns are going to great lengths to lure Google to their locale, most appear to be taking a more low-key approach.

But in terms of generating the most online buzz, Duluth is leading one analysis of the the applicants.

"We've put together a very competitive campaign," said Mayor Ness, according to Minnesota Public Radio. "We think it's a game-changer.... Every institution, every element of our local economy will be touched by this."

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