Baltimore's sober-sided plug for speedier Google plug-in

  • Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, presses a button to submit the city's request for information. Baltimore has taken a relatively low-key approach to courting Google's proposed infrastructure upgrade.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, presses a button… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
March 27, 2010|By Gus G. Sentementes | gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

Sarasota's mayor jumped into a shark tank to draw Google's attention to the Florida city. The mayor of Duluth, Minn., took a Google-inspired dive in the frigid waters of Lake Superior. City workers and residents in Palo Alto, Calif., jubilantly danced to the Village People's "YMCA" for Google in front of City Hall.

But Baltimore was more subdued in its quest for Google Fiber over the past month - a potential billion-dollar pilot project that the Internet giant hopes to install in a community to bring ultra-high-speed broadband Internet connections to residents and businesses.

The wackiest thing Baltimore Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake did was appoint a "Google czar," which did draw some headlines.

"Baltimore is the serious city," said Tom Loveland, the volunteer Google czar and technology entrepreneur who oversaw the city's application process. "We took it seriously. So many cities have done a bunch of stunts, but Baltimore's keeping its head down and getting it done."

Baltimore was one of several Maryland jurisdictions to file applications with Google. Others included the cities of Frederick and Rockville, and Garrett, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., said in a company blog post Friday afternoon that it had received more than 600 applications for the Google Fiber for Communities project, and feedback from more than 190,000 people who wanted it in their towns and cities.

The company expects to announce the recipient of the project by the end of the year.

While Baltimore eschewed a high-profile stunt, that doesn't mean there wasn't excitement behind the scenes. City residents started a popular Facebook group and lobbied for community support on Twitter. Some built a robust Web site - bmorefiber.com - to show off Baltimore's exuberance to Google Fiber.

But the crew of volunteer residents and city officials decided early against publicity stunts - so no dive in the Inner Harbor for Baltimore's mayor - and instead stayed focused on putting together a comprehensive application for Google, they said.

"When you have a weak proposal, you need stunts," said Rawlings-Blake, moments after submitting Baltimore's application from her office computer with the click of a mouse. "We don't need stunts."

"We were honored by the excitement we saw around the country," said Dan Martin, a Google spokesman, in an e-mail. "We know this enthusiasm is much bigger than Google and our experimental network - people around the country are hungry for better and faster Internet."

The FCC recently announced a 10-year plan to upgrade the country's Internet infrastructure, and millions of dollars in federal stimulus spending have been directed to support states' efforts to map their current broadband infrastructure to spot deficiencies.

Supporters of ultra-high-speed broadband say it can spur greater innovation and commerce for businesses and even deliver economic benefits to residents who have access to it.

Google wants to build a next-generation network that it and other companies can use as a testing ground for Web-related technologies. The network promises to offer 1-gigabit-per-second download speed directly to people's homes - or about 1,000 times the typical speed that most consumers have now.

The company has said it is willing to install such a network in a community ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 people.

"Nobody has access to something like this presently," said David Troy, a technology entrepreneur and volunteer who helped put together Baltimore's proposal. "It's really unprecedented."

Troy said the Google application consisted of numerous seemingly ordinary details that the city had to provide. Google is a company that focuses intensely on data, and Baltimore did its best to give the company as much as possible to help inform its decision about the city, Troy said.

For instance: The city noted in its application that there are 67,125 light poles owned by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and 48,330 telephone poles owned by Verizon, while the city owns 46,000 aluminum poles and 25,000 wooden ones, according to Troy.

"It's not the kind of figures that people normally think about," Troy said.

One of the benefits that Baltimore has to offer, Troy said, is that the city owns the underground conduit - 3.9 million linear feet - and it would make that network available to Google to run its fiber.

With the widespread media coverage - essentially free publicity - that Google received about the project, it's clear that the company struck a nerve among the digitally connected masses. More and more people are doing data-intensive tasks on their desktop computers, laptops and mobile phones, and increasingly desire more powerful broadband networks, technology observers said.

"Even among people who aren't living the digital lifestyle, there's a broader range of people who find that broadband helps keep them connected in their community," said John B. Horrigan, director of consumer research for the FCC's national broadband plan.

"I think we're at an inflection point where now people who aren't necessarily the heaviest tech users understand that broadband is important for helping them carry out their everyday tasks," he said.

The city will make the application it submitted to Google publicly available next week, a city spokesman said.

The competitors in Maryland
Major jurisdictions in Maryland vying for Google Fiber:

Baltimore, Frederick, Garrett County, Rockville, Montgomery County, Prince George's County

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