Gaga for Google fiber as hype grows

March 14, 2010
| By Pete Daly |
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Can 22,000 fans be wrong?

That’s how many people had signed on by mid-week last week as Facebook “fans” of the Grand Rapids bid to be selected for Google’s experiment in delivering ultra high-speed broadband Internet service via fiber optic cable.

Similar campaigns are also underway in Holland, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Lansing/East Lansing, Ann Arbor — throughout Michigan, in fact. Last week Gov. Jennifer Granholm was in California, where Google is based, pitching Michigan as the state for Google fiber optics.

Meanwhile, a Grand Rapids-style “flash mob” is scheduled Friday at 4 p.m. on Calder Plaza downtown to demonstrate support for GR. A flash mob is a spontaneous public gathering rapidly organized via text messaging and social networking sites.

At a news conference last week at the Hanon McKendry ad agency, Todd Ernst of Activesite said there was the possibility that 5,000 people would be at Calder Plaza, where there is expected to be some sort of entertainment and perhaps a “human fiber” of thousands of people linking hands in support of Grand Rapids.

In February, Google announced its Fiber for Communities project, a test of an ultra-high speed broadband network serving a population of 50,000 to 500,000. Fiber optic technology allows Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today: over 1 gigabit per second.

Google has set a deadline of March 26 for interested local governments throughout the U.S. to submit a formal application to be the test site. The application must provide detailed information about the community, its support for the project and reasons that community would be the best site for the experiment.

Pete Brand of Mindscape at Hanon McKendry said it appears Google is seeking a community where there could be “quick and effective” installation of the fiber optic infrastructure, without delays or impediments thrown up by a bureaucratic local government. Brand said he was “excited about what this is going to do for Grand Rapids” if Google selects it. He noted that the advanced Internet technologies available via fiber optics would stop Grand Rapids from being known as a region with 72,000 college students who “catch the next plane out of here” once they’ve graduated.

The city of Grand Rapids will submit an application, and so will Holland, through its municipal Board of Public Works, which has had fiber optic infrastructure installed since 1992 for transmission of data between the municipal electrical grid substations.

The HBPW, with strong support from Holland City Hall, has launched the FiberTown initiative, and quickly put a “Take Me to FiberTown” video on Youtube.com. Now there is a contest underway for another video (or videos).

Holland also has billboards up supporting its campaign. Chris Van Dokkumburg of the HBPW said six billboards direct people to the Web site where they can nominate Holland. The nomination process on the Google Web site requires a Google Internet account. Registration for a new account is free but requires submitting an email address.

Van Dokkumburg said the Google site does not reveal how many nominations it has received for any given community.

There is support in Muskegon to be Google’s fiber optic test site, although it is not clear which if any local government entity was going to file a formal application before the deadline. An administrative assistant in Muskegon City Hall told the Business Journal last week that the city manager had indicated he would not be submitting an application. Calls to the county administrator were not returned, although the chairman of the Muskegon county commissioners, Ken Mahoney, said he had not heard any mention of the county applying.

Jason Piasecki, owner of the Muskegon-based Qonverge marketing firm, said he would be disappointed if there was no formal application submitted on behalf of Muskegon. He said there are some “grass roots initiatives” underway. That includes the backing of the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce, according to chamber president Cindy Larsen.

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