Friday, December 24, 2010

Blaine still has chance to go Google

Decision delayed for ultra-high-speed fiber network

Express Staff Writer

Google plans to expand its Internet services with a test of a new ultra-high-speed fiber network. Photo by David N. Seelig

Google planned to announce in 2010 if Blaine County would be a guinea pig for its fiber network experiment, providing Internet speeds a hundred times faster than the norm, at a rate of one gigabit per second. However, the winner has yet to be announced.

The county is one of 1,100 city and county governments nationwide that have applied for the opportunity that Google announced in February. The fiber network would allow a high-definition, full-length movie to be downloaded in less than five minutes, as well as practical applications previously out of reach. Imagine sitting in a rural health clinic where three-dimensional health imaging is streaming over the web to a specialist in New York with whom you're also talking online.

Ketchum City Councilwoman Nina Jonas threw Blaine County's hat into the ring, filling out the 20-page application in March after Ketchum resident Shaun Kelly informed her of the competition. Jonas said she put the entire county as the applicant because the cities are all too small. But the 22,000-population county is still small-scale for Google, which said it's looking for areas with a minimum of 50,000 people.

Jonas said Google hasn't updated her on progress in selecting a community—or communities—since she applied in March, but she finally received word last Friday. Milo Medin, Google's new vice president of access services hired last week, sent Jonas an e-mail and said his new duties encompass overseeing the Google Fiber team.

"So far, I've been getting up to speed on the progress our team has made over the past several months," he said, "from experimenting with new fiber-deployment technologies here on Google's campus, to announcing a network to 850 homes at Stanford [University]."

He added that Google will be delaying its announcement of the chosen "community or communities."

"We had planned to announce by the end of this year, but the level of interest was incredible," he wrote, adding that the 1,100 hopeful communities exceeded Google's expectations.

Some applicants went to extreme lengths for Google's attention. One was Topeka, which temporarily renamed itself "Google, Kan." San Francisco argued that as a center of the high-tech community, it was the best choice, while Scranton, Pa., said the fiber cables could jump-start its struggling economy.

Medin said Google's decision should be revealed in early 2011.

Of all applicant communities in America, Blaine County has a chance, albeit small, of getting this technology first.

"It's pretty much a pipe dream," Jonas admitted shortly after applying in March, noting that the county's chance is zero if it doesn't try.

And, she said, it would be a great economic stimulus for the area that Google would pay to install. But Google wouldn't be able to just come in and start installing fiber cables. Jonas has to provide information on the current infrastructure, such as the number of phone poles and who owns them. She said Idaho Power owns the majority, and Google would need its cooperation.

Trevon Milliard:

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