February 16, 2010 By Karen Wilkinson
Robert Garcia isn't wasting any time making sure his city is up to speed. As the youngest person elected to the Long Beach (Calif.) City Council, 32-year-old Garcia is a self-proclaimed "techie" who wants the city to reflect his passion.
That's why Garcia recently introduced an emergency motion to apply for Google's experimental "ultra high-speed" broadband network -- the Internet giant announced last week its plans to build and test the networks "in a small number of trial locations across the United States."
"To be able to lay that type of broadband would be huge," Garcia said before Tuesday's council meeting. "The reality of what Google is proposing is impressive, as far as speed."
Cities and rural communities across the United States are lining up with requests for information (RFI) and dreams of being chosen. With promises of Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than average American households (about one gigabit per second), the excitement of those vying to be part of the "experiment" is close to that of kids in a candy store.
"There's a lot of enthusiasm out there from people who want better and faster broadband," Google spokesman Dan Martin said. "We've received responses from more than a dozen communities and several thousand responses from citizens."
Cities and towns in states such as Virginia, Missouri, New York and others are gearing to apply. Google plans to offer such services at "a competitive price" to at least 50,000 and up to 500,000 people. Groups supporting the opportunity have already sprouted up on social networking sites such as Facebook.com, with Baton Rouge, La., attracting more than 1,500 people less than a week after the company's announcement, Martin said.
"We're excited [about] what people are going to do with these ultra-high speeds," Martin said, noting that Google isn't trying to compete with the broadband industry. "Our goal in doing this is to push the Internet forward and test and experiment in ways to make it faster for people."
Just where and how far that push takes the virtual world is something no one can predict, Martin said, just as no one could have predicted the advent of Skype and YouTube when dial-up Internet made its way into households.
"It's kind of like the chicken-and-egg thing," Martin said. "It's impossible to predict what's going to happen -- we're excited to see what developers are going to come up with [using] ultra-high speed and what consumers are going to be using."
In its Feb. 10 blog announcement, Google gave examples of downloading a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes. Another example told of being able to stream 3-D medical imaging online, from a rural health clinic, while speaking with a doctor in New York.
The deadline to apply is March 26 and Google plans to select participants by the end of the year. With such a technological blank page lying ahead, Garcia hopes Long Beach can tag along and show its progressive ways.
"It'd be a huge win for Long Beach," he said. "Small businesses could provide quicker service to customers and we would be able to have broadband in areas with no access to the Internet."
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.