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Boston joins race to lure Google

By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / March 27, 2010

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Boston is “Google-ready,’’ according to Mayor Thomas M. Menino, but plenty of other communities say they would be the right place for search giant Google Inc. to build a new, super-fast Internet service.

In February, Google revealed a plan to build one or more high-speed Internet networks, serving between 50,000 and 500,000 Americans, and asked cities and towns to apply for the chance to host the service. Yesterday was the deadline for applications, and as of yesterday morning, at least 600 communities and more than 190,000 individuals had applied to bring the network to their neighborhoods. But it will be months before the company decides where to build the new system.

Although the company will not read every one of the applications from individuals, it will aggregate data from those submissions to determine, among other things, where there is strong grass-roots enthusiasm for the project, the company said. Google project manager Minnie Ingersoll said the company does plan to read each of the hundreds of official submissions from communities. “Our team will be reading every response and making its decisions based on a number of factors,’’ she said.

The new Google networks would offer speeds of 1 billion bits per second, which is some 100 times faster than what is currently received by most customers of cable broadband services. Google plans to build the networks at its own expense. The company could choose a single location, or it might build several networks in communities of varying size. Residential and business users would pay for the service at a rate comparable to what they pay for existing broadband services.

Boston, Quincy, Worcester, Newburyport, Shrewsbury, and a host of other Massachusetts cities and towns applied for the Google network. Many places across the country promoted their bids with humorous stunts. In Sarasota, Fla., Mayor Richard Clapp dove into an aquarium tank filled with sharks to demonstrate his eagerness, while Don Ness, mayor of Duluth, Minn., leaped into the icy waters of Lake Superior.

Boston has taken a more conservative approach. The city’s application stressed Boston’s role as a global academic and research center and a major financial hub. It notes that large amounts of unused, or “dark,’’ optical fiber have already been installed under the city’s streets. Google could use this fiber as the backbone of its system, enabling the company to complete construction quickly and at low cost.

Rather than wire the entire city, Boston’s application proposes that Google’s network serve the Longwood medical area and a 5-square-mile residential area that includes Roxbury, Dorchester, and parts of Mission Hill and the South End.

Craig Settles, an independent telecom analyst based in Oakland, Calif., said the Google competition has boosted public interest in better Internet access. “It has gotten a lot more attention focused on broadband, and extremely fast broadband, than anyone has done to date,’’ he said.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

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