Juneau vies for high-speed Internet

Group believes city has a shot in contest to test Google's ultra-fast Web

Posted: Tuesday, March 09, 2010

For once, the difficulty of doing business here might be an asset for Juneau.

That's what a tech-savvy group of locals hope as they apply to be a test city for Google's experimental, ultra-fast broadband network.

Hundreds of cities have applied since the California-based company posted a request for information last month. In addition to applying, Topeka, Kan., has temporarily changed its name to Google.

Juneau is small but the city doesn't have to take drastic measures to look attractive to the company, said Jeremy Hansen, an information technology specialist working on the application.

The company is looking for a challenge, Hansen said.

"Juneau offers up a very unique geographical technical problem," Hansen said. "It's mountainous, distant, there's water, the rugged terrain is challenging in itself, as well as the transport of that much bandwidth to Juneau."

City officials asked the Juneau Economic Development Council to handle the application. A handful of meetings have generated excitement about the possibility that Juneau could be chosen, even though it seems a long shot.

"Everybody in the room was very conscious of the snowball's-chance end of things," JEDC Communications Director Larry West said. "We're an isolated community with limited infrastructure for something like this. It would be very costly to build in Juneau compared to somewhere else in the country."

But maybe that won't deter Google.

The company announced its plan Feb. 10 to build and test "a small number" of trial locations around the United States. The system will deliver speeds up to 100 times faster than today's typical connection, at 1 gigabit per second.

The company wants to make Internet access faster and better for everyone, with emphasis on creative ways to apply ultra-high-speed Internet and - potentially key for Juneau - testing new ways to build fiber networks.

It also wants to find communities with enthusiasm for the project. More than 500 people had signed up by Monday afternoon for the Juneau Broadband Facebook page. For links, visit www.jedc.org.

"As a municipality, we have not only filled out the application, but we've also done some work in communicating to our community about the process, to get them interested, on board and show solidarity towards the goal," Hansen said.

Google said it's too soon to say how much the networks would cost to build. It would provide broadband services at competitive prices and consider letting local Internet providers use the network.

The deadline to apply is March 26. The company plans to announce target communities this year.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.

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