Brent Finnegan -- February 25th, 2010
Harrisonburg is in competition with a myriad of cities across the country for Google’s attention. Earlier this month, the tech giant announced plans “to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States.”
City officials want Harrisonburg to be the epicenter of those 1 gigabit-per-second fiber optic network connections.
Mayor Kai Degner, several city departments, and some local tech companies are working to nominate Harrisonburg for Google’s experiment. There’s a link to the nomination form on the homepage of the city’s website, and a prompt for residents and business owners to join in the effort.
“Josh Baugher sent me an email about the [Google fiber trial],” writes Harrisonburg Mayor Kai Degner. “I checked it out, and was in the city offices 20 minutes later. Good example of a resident making an impact.” Degner continues:
Imagine having internet 100 times faster than anywhere else in the world. Sure, it benefits Google, but it benefits us, too. Not only would we benefits as users of faster internet and new not-yet-conceived-of applications that depend on that fast an internet, it would attract the technology industry we’re wanting to develop. The long-run benefit is having a front seat to the nuts and bolts of implementing the new technology and being the center for new innovation and spin-offs.
But it’s going to take a lot more than search engine optimization to catch Google’s eye in this case. The number one web service in the world is looking for a very specific kind of community — one that’s not too big to connect, but just big enough that it has a good number of tech companies that can experiment on the network.
According to a recent story in PCWorld, Google may be doing this to push their vision of what the internet could be in the U.S. — more like Korea’s or Japan’s ultra-high speed web:
. . . the Google network will be open access, meaning third-party service providers will be able to use it to deliver Internet to their customers. In this way, Google is trying to bring back discarded open-access rules that used to require incumbent telecom companies such as Verizon and AT&T to allow ISPs such as Earthlink to buy space on their DSL broadband networks at discount prices.
Ande Banks, Harrisonburg Director of Special Projects & Grant Management, is preparing the Google application for the city. Banks is working with various city departments to answer Google’s request for information. He writes:
Ultra-high speed broadband would offer a tremendous competitive advantage to Harrisonburg businesses. I envision firms wishing to perform pilot projects on this system, resulting in jobs and investment in Harrisonburg. This could be a great asset for the local colleges and universities to utilize. Ultimately, this is providing a needed level of infrastructure for the growth and innovation of the next generation of applications that interface our lives with on-line and other digital resources.
ValleyApps, a local Google-authorized app reseller, is the sort of company Banks is describing. I caught up with Mike Vanderpool, president of ValleyApps and Vision Studios, and asked him about the Google experiment.
What are Harrisonburg’s chances of beating out dozens (if not thousands) of other comparably-sized cities in the U.S.? As Vanderpool points out, there are some advantages. We are situated next to a major artery of fiber optic cable running down the I-81 corridor.
Banks notes that “our community is large enough to meet Google’s minimum requirements (approximately 50,000), but it is small enough to conceivably roll-out an entire fiber optic network within the time-frame they are hoping.”
Whether or not Google will ultimately choose Harrisonburg is anyone’s guess. But the implication is that the more community groups to nominate their community, the better the chances.
Mayor Degner writes, “Our application’s competitiveness can be influenced by individual nominations from city residents. We are urging all interested people to nominate us using the online form. You can also submit a short YouTube video – I’d love to see some!”