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Summary:

Tomorrow is the last day municipalities can submit applications for Google’s experimental fiber network that will deliver 1 gigabit per second to homes. But even for cities that aren’t chosen, the lessons learned because of this process will benefit them for a long time.

Tomorrow is the last day municipalities can submit their applications to be the location for Google’s experimental fiber-to-the-home network that will deliver 1 gigabit per second to homes. While not many are aware of how fast a Gigabit connection could be or what it could be used for (our commenters think 3-D television is a good use, the smart grid is a possibility and I’m partial to the idea of an always-on home, which I submitted), it’s pretty clear that a lot of municipalities want it anyway.

Aside from some of the crazy stunts that mayors and towns have pulled in order to attract Google’s attention (swimming in frozen lakes! swimming with sharks!), I thought the greatest thing to come out of this is how towns are reaching out to their citizens using social media. Christopher Swanson, the project manager for getting Google Fiber to Duluth, Minn., says “Social media has been the most important part of our engagement. We did postcards and all kinds of things, but what has brought in the most involvement has been social media.” He credits social media with getting about 30 percent of citizens on board with the town’s fiber application.

My hometown of Austin, Texas, has set up a web site, sends out tweets and has created a Facebook page that has more than  5,000 fans. Elsewhere, the effort to engage citizens has encouraged city officials to use social media tools and citizens to in turn engage with their governments. I hope that lasts, because that’s potentially farther-reaching than the initial fiber effort.

That said, however, some of the engagement is a bit creepy. Check out the City of Asheville’s pandering of their students to Google. The elementary-school kids chanting, “I love you, Google” is great for the Google brand, but hard to watch. We’ve already discussed what it might cost Google to build out the network, which would serve between 50,000 and 500,000, and have outlined other areas of the world that have gigabit connections already.

So while there may only be just one Google testbed network announced some time this year, the benefits could accrue to municipalities through a more connected and engaged citizenry and hopefully through showing the U.S. what it means to have a truly open fiber network that could boost competition for broadband connectivity. From Austin’s FAQs on the topic:

Moreover, Google plans to open the network to competitive service providers. This means you may choose to buy your service from a completely different company – possibly a local Austin service provider. You old-timers will remember the dialup modem days, when we used to be able to choose from a long list of Internet service providers. The Google open network would restore that choice, but this time running at gigabit speed.

This openness is the answer to the lack of competition when it comes to broadband access in the U.S. today, not more data or wireless networks as the National Broadband Plan is trying to offer as a salve. So as we count down to the application deadline, and the eventual network buildout, I’m hoping the entire process makes its mark on cities even if they don’t win.

Related GigaOM Pro content:

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  1. It’s important to note that Google is not inventing municipal fiber. Some pretty big American cities, like Tacoma Washington (pop. 200,000) have had it for a while (Over 10 years in their case). If your city doesn’t win Google’s favor, please keep pushing for it.

    I’m so sick of paying Comcast $60 a month for crappy bandwidth when we could have some municipal fiber for $20ish a month.

    1. Stacey Higginbotham meks Thursday, March 25, 2010

      Municipal fiber is great if you can get it, but in some states (like Texas) cities can’t offer consumers access to fiber networks.

  2. Sweden Rocks and The U.S. Drops in Tech Productivity Study – GigaOM Thursday, March 25, 2010

    [...] talked a bit about U.S. municipalities going beyond government services in my Google fiber story today, and Mathew’s post on Crowdcast hit on ways businesses can use technology to improve their [...]

  3. “I’m so sick of paying Comcast $60 a month for crappy bandwidth when we could have some municipal fiber for $20ish a month.”

    That’s assuming that the city would keep it at $20. Cities like revenue, and they know that there are prices that the market would bear and prices that you would pay to have gigabit fiber.

    My bigger fear is that the copyright zealots would be all over it, demanding ‘content protection’ and the anti-porn nuts would be raising a stink too.

  4. iptiam – iPad Therefore I Am Thursday, March 25, 2010

    but i doubt if google shd be the one owning it. what are the real goals here?

  5. Sanjay Maharaj Thursday, March 25, 2010

    Your article demonstrates the power of social media in organizing towards a common goal. I totally agree with you comment that it should last and engage governments further on all issues.
    On another note cannot wait to hear which city will get the Google award and what their selection criteria wil be. Bit like waiting to find out if your city won the bid to host the Olympics

  6. The city of Longview hopes to become a Google fiber community winner. We want to welcome Google to Texas with open arms. Deadline is March 26, 2010 at 7 PM, but Google reserves the right to modify/extend this date. Don’t be late!

  7. Last mile fiber is a good thing. (Especially if it is home-run, not PON with field-splitters).

    But, it won’t give a town’s people high speed if they can’t get low-cost transit (and hopefully connect to an exchange point where they can get some content for free, so to speak)

    There are a few major data centers and network interconnection locations around the country (e.g. San Jose, LA, DC, NY, CHI, etc). Somehow, the small towns need to obtain very high speed connections to one or more of these colo/interconnect locations. If instead they try to buy pure transit service, they will be hit with pretty high costs (even the cheapest transit will be, say, $8/Mbps/month 95th percentile). If individual customers have 1GigE pipes (and any of them tune their tcp/ip stacks to actually push/pull traffic at those rates)imagine the aggregate traffic rates.

    Let’s say 100 people manage to find real bluray quality video (for discussion 25Mbps VC1/H.264) to watch one evening. That’s 2500Mbps. Even the cheapest transit would cost $20k in bandwidth charges (not including circuit fees). That’s $200/month per user. You can make the argument that only a fraction of the user-base will want high speed service during peak hours, but that is really an argument that the services are unessential/unimportant; the premise is that these fiber pipes will provide essential every-day use services, so we should budget with the assumption that customers WILL USE IT.

    Lots of network companies will give the data away for free. They are typically networks that cater to content providers. It is in their interest to deliver to end consumers. They will peer (interconnect network facilities) with anyone for free. But, they typically don’t have ubiquitous geographic coverage, and they don’t provide very good transit service, so you wouldn’t want them as your primary provider anyway.

    The ideal solution is for the small-towns to have “direct pipes” to one or more of the major colocation/interconnect centers, where they can peer with as many “free” providers as possible. Then they only need to buy as much transit as required to fill-in the remaining connectivity. WHO buys the community the 10GigE, 100GigE (or N x 100GigE) pipes from the small-town to the closest colo/exchange site?

    With today’s equipment, it is possible to put 100Gig on a single lambda (colored light stream) on a single fiber pair. (And perhaps 64 lambdas can ride a single fiber.) But the pricing models are from the stone age.

    If we can’t connect communities to the “free” data providers with very high capacity backhaul circuits, then users will NOT experience advanced (bandwidth intensive) services. Last mile build-out is an expensive proposition, but it is primarily a huge one-time expense. Providing huge backhaul circuits is (presently) expensive on an ON-GOING basis!

    Just like we built the Interstate highway system, maybe we need to build a national network of backhaul fiber and supply these towns with the big backhaul circuits to connect them to the nearest colo/interconnection hub(s)?

  8. Asheville & Google can do it. And here is why I think Asheville will win – No crazy stunts here (well, none outside of what usually happens in Asheville) http://www.youtube.com/user/AshevilleOVision

  9. I believe commenter Bob needs an article post of his own. Very informative!

  10. Irit Gillath Friday, March 26, 2010

    Great article, Google pushed many municipalities to be more active in social networking, which will probably will affect the way they connect to their residents on other matters. But it also brought FTTH technology options to the spot light. And forced municipalities to look on technological choices and do proper analysis of the business plan and costs in their community, and not just follow the decisions of big carriers.
    For many years we’ve been trying to educate the market on other options that make more sense to municipalities like ActiveE technology and Google’s announcement and the bandwidth they said they’d want to offer lead itself to these technologies , making municipalities more aware and conscious about their options.

    1. You’re talking about the social networkers who know enough about computers to play farmville and create bogus fan pages(not business related) on facebook. They have no clue and are not IT experts who know what google is doing is a load of it and you’re going to foot the bill one way or another and not even see these claimed speeds.

      These politicians even have secretaries who turn on their PC.

      I’m just really sick of all this clamoring coming from people who can’t even be bothered to clean their PC from spyware instead of buying a new one because it’s slow. You don’t know the requirements a PC needs to achieve these speeds, or the cost of the servers and services to handle the load of 1Gb+ networks. A complete overhaul is required, and most PC hardware isn’t even capable of 1Gb access(hard drives/solid state disks).

  11. Google Fiber | The Deadline Is Tomorrow But Google Fiber Is Already Changing Towns « Christinereview's Weblog Friday, March 26, 2010

    [...] Google Fiber | The Deadline Is Tomorrow But Google Fiber Is Already Changing Towns Posted on March 26, 2010 by christinereview Tomorrow is the last day municipalities can submit their applications to be the location for Google’s experimental fiber-to-the-home network that will deliver 1 gigabit per second to homes. While not many are aware of how fast a Gigabit Read more [...]

  12. Asheville was not pandering anyone. We wanted the community to unite against a common goal to bring affordable, accessible bandwidth to our community. We included the entire community and asked students to tell us how Google’s fiber-to-the-home initiative would improve their life. Our goal was to show Google that everyone in the community is ready and willing to support them.

    We are in a rural city, the campaign was simple “Bring it home Google!” – to accuse our city of pandering our students and ignoring our community’s hard work comes across as a plea for attention.

    Are our students and classrooms incapable of loving Google at free will? Happy kids make you feel creepy, wtf?, all the other comments about our students were moving and inspirational. Your assumption makes its sound like we coached them, when in fact it was the very opposite. They said a lot more.

    I ask you to view the video in context, something bigger took place http://googleavl.com – our community came together like never before. Simply asking all sectors of our community to voice their support was something I personally went after. I appreciate the feedback. Keep up the great work.

    Jose Ibarra
    @h0zae
    http://googleavl.com

  13. Did Your Town Get Google Fiber? Google’s Not Telling Yet.: Tech News « Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    [...] Google can bring to the process of building a broadband network and also to the types of applications that might run over such a network. It’s project in Stanford is just the tip of the iceberg. From the blog: This week I joined [...]

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