Some 1,100 communities are vying for a network that delivers high-
speed Internet access, courtesy of Google - though most aren't sure
exactly what benefits it will deliver.
Wooing Google became something of a national pastime after the
Internet search giant said in February it would build an
experimental, superfast broadband network somewhere in America.
In Duluth, Minn., the mayor leapt into Lake Superior's icy waters
to try to win Google's favor. The mayor of Sarasota, Fla., swam with
sharks. In Topeka, Kan., officials changed the city's name to Google
for the month of March. Cities held rallies, started Facebook
campaigns, and created online odes to Google to boost their chances
of becoming the test bed for a fiber-optics network and, perhaps,
the most wired place in the world.
More than 1,100 US communities applied to become Google's guinea
pig. In coming months, Google says it will weigh the merits of each
bid, visit applicant cities, and consider logistics. By year's end,
it will decide on a location (or locations) to launch its project,
which promises to deliver the Internet to as many as 500,000 people
at speeds 100 times faster than the average connection.
All the excitement around Google's fiber-optics experiment speaks
to the appetite for faster broadband as Americans come to rely on
the Internet as their primary source of communication and
"Our goal is to experiment with new ways to help make Internet
access better and faster for everyone," said Minnie Ingersoll,
product manager on Google's alternative access team, in an e-mail.
"We want to see what developers and consumers can do with ultrahigh
speeds, like creating new bandwidth-intensive 'killer apps' and
services, or other uses we can't yet imagine."
Google's 1-gigabit-per-second (Gbps) network promises to raise
the bar for the future of broadband. For US consumers, whose average
download speeds hover at about 5 megabits per second (Mbps), the
switch would be like trading in a jalopy for a jet and allow for
near-instant access to full-length movies and games. But the real
benefactors, experts say, would be universities, hospitals, and
businesses that could start using data-heavy applications via the
Internet at lightning speeds.
"It's going to have tremendous benefits in terms of showing what
can be done," says Lauren Weinstein, cofounder of People for
Internet Responsibility (PFIR). "Right now it isn't obvious to
everyone what you do with a gigabit pipe. Some of the more important
aspects of this will be how institutions, such as hospitals, will
In recent years, America has lagged behind other countries in
investments in faster broadband. South Korea, considered the world's
most-wired country, wants to boost its connections to 1 Gbps within
five years. Australia intends to offer broadband at 100 Mbps within
a decade, and Finland by 2016, according to a Brookings Institution