My Turn: Google R&D in Juneau

Posted: Monday, March 29, 2010

On March 16, the Federal Communications Commission unveiled the National Broadband Plan in response to Congress' recognition that high-speed internet connectivity is critical to our nation's competitiveness and that the "... United States is behind many advanced countries in the adoption of such technology."

The Plan (available at www.fcc.gov) exhorts: "Industry, nonprofits, and government together with the American people, must now act and rise to our era's infrastructure challenge" and explores how faster and more accessible high speed internet will positively impact economic development, education, health care, energy and the environment, government performance, civic engagement and public safety in our nation.

Not coincidently, Google announced in February that it is looking for communities to participate in an experiment to test ultra-high speed internet connections. Google offers to connect between 50,000 and 500,000 people from one or more communities throughout the nation to ultra high speed internet by installing fiber optics to the home.

While the National Broadband Plan calls for a nation with access to 100 megabits per second, Google's experiment will install a network that runs at 10 times that speed, or 1 gigabit per second (Gbps). One Gbps is 100 times faster than what is available in most communities in the United States.

Why is Google doing this? Their stated goal is "to experiment with new ways to help make Internet access better and faster for everyone."

Simply put, this effort is corporate Research and Development by Google, in anticipation of what the company sees as inexorable increases in data transfer speeds, to anticipate the associated opportunities and challenges. Google states its objectives include identifying "Next Generation Apps" as well as new deployment techniques to build these networks. It also promises to share widely what it learns and to operate an "open access" network.

Google states that it "...will fund the cost of building and deploying this network" and that they are not seeking any special privileges or incentives from interested communities. It also states that it will make available this service at "comparable" costs to what we pay for our current broadband.

The city and borough of Juneau submitted an application by the March 26 deadline. Thanks to local media, business and civic leaders, word of mouth, the Web, volunteers and social networking, Juneau has demonstrated a high level of awareness and support for this effort in a very short period of time. The JuneauBroadband Initiative has more than 2,000 "fans" on Facebook. In addition to the city's application, individuals continue to nominate Juneau to Google for this opportunity via www.JuneauBroadband.com.

The Juneau Assembly unanimously endorsed applying for this opportunity, as well as did other groups committed to Juneau's long-term development, such as the Alaska Committee and the Juneau Economic Development Council.

What's in it for us? Alaskans are one of the most "connected" populations with some of the highest rates of high-speed internet usage in our nation relative to current norms. With vast distances and a small population, we appreciate and depend on these connections more all the time.

This opportunity from Google could provide an early glimpse of what the future may hold. Besides immediately having ultra-high speed internet in our daily lives, we will become a focal point for innovation, providing insights to local businesses, organizations, students, and government, and place Alaskans at the table as new opportunities emerge.

There are many reasons why Google may choose Juneau for their experiment, including our unique geography, climate and pristine environment, well-educated population, openness to research, green energy, relative affluence, high visibility as a tourist destination, and as the seat of state government. Google also is looking for a community that will embrace this opportunity, including accepting the unknowns associated with being on the frontier of change.

I applaud the very positive response from citizens and our leaders in Juneau to pursue this opportunity. Whether or not Google selects Juneau for this experiment, we can thank them for reminding all of us that the world is quickly changing; and, like it or not, it is in our best interest as a community and a nation to be aware of these changes and to prepare for them.

• Brian Holst is executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council.



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