After seeing Facebook pleas and flash mobs, and even cities temporarily renaming themselves "Google," the search engine giant said Wednesday it has chosen Kansas City, Kan., as the first place to get its new ultra-fast broadband network.
Google announced the city would be the inaugural site for its "Fiber for Communities" program, which it says will be capable of delivering Internet access more than 100 times faster than the home broadband connections provided by phone and cable companies across the U.S.
The company envisions systems that will let consumers download a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes, allow rural health clinics to send 3-D medical images over the Internet and let students collaborate with classmates around the world while watching live 3-D video of a university lecture.
Google's service, which will provide Internet connections of 1 gigabit per second to as many as 500,000 people, will be offered in early 2012 while the company looks at other communities across the country.
More than 1,100 cities had made bids to become a test site for the company's fiber-optic network, trying to catch Google's attention and show their enthusiasm.
Milo Medin, Google's vice president for access services, said Kansas City was selected in part because of its solid network infrastructure and because the program would have an impact on the community, one of the poorest in the state.
"We believe gigabit broadband can be leveraged for economic development and educational gain, both of which are vital in the global economy that we live in today,'" Medin said. "We want to be able to build strong relationships and partnerships with local government and communities so that we can work together to use technology in a new way to make a city a better place to live in, a better place to work in, a better place to learn in."
The company's deadline for city governments and citizens to express interest in attracting Google passed in March 2010. Many cities used stunts and gimmickry to get the company's attention and show interest in the experimental network.
Topeka informally renamed itself "Google, Kan." Members of the group Think Big Topeka also organized a flash mob at a community meeting and a formation of fans spelling out "Google" on the ice during a RoadRunners hockey game. A group in Baltimore launched a website that used Google mapping to plot the location of more than 1,000 residents and give their reasons for wanting the service. Hundreds of groups on Facebook implored Google to come to their cities.
Joe Reardon, mayor and chief executive officer of Kansas City and Wyandotte County, said the "1 gigabit fiber backbone straight through to businesses and homes" would mean business and educational opportunities for the area, and would help the community grow in unique ways.
"The unbelievable thing about this from a development perspective is that it knows no particular place or boundary" he said. "It could be deployed to anywhere the need and interest is."
Google's new fiber-optic network comes amid growing worry among policymakers and public interest groups in Washington that broadband connections in the U.S. are far slower and more expensive than those available in many European and Asian countries, and that too many Americans still have no broadband access at all.
President Barack Obama recently pledged to expand high-speed wireless Internet access to 98 percent of Americans. The Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department are searching for more wireless spectrum — or airwaves — to make that possible. The FCC is also seeking to tap the federal program that subsidizes phone service in rural and poor communities to pay for broadband access.
For its part, Google has said it's not interested in dominating or even grabbing a sizable chunk of the broadband market. Instead, it is dipping into its $35 billion bank account to build an ultra-fast Internet network in hopes of prodding telecommunications and cable providers to upgrade their services in communities across the country.
Google says it hopes phone and cable companies will learn lessons from the experimental network that will help them hurry the rollout of their own high-speed systems and bring faster connections to more Americans at a lower cost. It also hopes to provide a test-bed for online video and other advanced applications that require a lot of bandwidth.
If more data can be sent through Internet pipes at faster speeds, Google believes people will spend more time on the Internet — an activity that typically enriches the company by bringing more traffic to its dominant search engine and producing more opportunities to show revenue-generating ads.
Unlike many of Google's Web-based applications such as email, calendars and document creation, Kansas City's Internet access using Google's pipes likely won't be free. On a question-and-answer page at its website, Google did not give specifics on its pricing plan, but said the company plans to offer the service "at a competitive price to what people are paying for Internet access today."
Joelle Tessler reported from Washington, D.C.