Duluth loses out to Kansas for Google broadband bid

Google, Inc.
Google said on its official blog that Kansas City, Kan. would be the inaugural site for its "Fiber for Communities" program, which it says will be capable of making Internet access more than 100 times faster than the broadband connection in most U.S. homes.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

After seeing Facebook pleas and flash mobs, and even cities temporarily renaming themselves "Google," the search engine giant said Wednesday it has chosen Kansas City, Kan., as the first place to get its new ultra-fast broadband network.

Duluth, Minn. was among more than 1,100 cities competing for the project, but ultimately lost out to Kansas City.

Duluth organized a team effort in February 2010 to try to attract the Google fiber project to the city. The city held an organization meeting drawing 100 or more people and fundraising began with a goal of raising a $30,000 budget.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness jumped into the frigid water of Lake Superior to bring attention to the city's efforts. A series of mostly humorous videos is posted on the GoogleTwinPorts.com, including one featuring Sen. Al Franken.

Ness said he's disappointed that Duluth wasn't chosen, but the effort will pay off in the future.

"We are much better positioned as a community today to take advantage of the new IT community of the future because of our efforts," he said.

Google said on its official blog that Kansas City would be the inaugural site for its "Fiber for Communities" program, which it says will be capable of making Internet access more than 100 times faster than the broadband connection in most U.S. homes.

The service, which will provide Internet connections of 1 gigabit per second to as many as 500,000 people, will be offered beginning in 2012 while Google looks at other communities across the country.

More than 1,100 cities had made bids to become a test site for the company's fiber-optic network, trying to catch Google's attention and show their enthusiasm.

"In selecting a city, our goal was to find a location where we could build efficiently, make an impact on the community and develop relationships with local government and community organizations," Milo Medin, Google's vice president of access services, wrote in a post on Google's official blog. "We've found this in Kansas City."

The company had set a March 26 deadline for city governments and citizens to express interest.

Nearby Topeka had informally renamed itself "Google, Kansas," during March 2010 as it competed for Google's experimental network. Members of the group Think Big Topeka also organized a flash mob at a community meeting and a formation of fans spelling out "Google" on the ice during a RoadRunners hockey game.

"We are very excited that they selected Kansas City, Kan.," said Brendan Jensen, part of the leadership team for Think Big Topeka and a field engineer for the Alexandria, Va.-based biometrics company MorphoTrak, which has a presence in Topeka.

"Of course we are discouraged that they didn't select Topeka, but the fact that they picked something in Kansas is a huge relief to us. That gives us just that much more incentive to go out and build one for Topeka."

A group in Baltimore had launched a website that used Google mapping to plot the location of more than 1,000 residents and give their reasons for wanting the service. Hundreds of groups on Facebook implored Google to come to their cities.

Google has said it's not interested in dominating or even grabbing a sizable chunk of the broadband market. Instead, it is dipping into its $35 billion bank account to build an ultra-fast Internet network in hopes of prodding telecommunications and cable providers to upgrade their services in communities across the country.

Google says it hopes phone and cable companies will learn lessons from the experimental network that will help them hurry the rollout of their own faster systems. It also hopes to provide a test-bed for online video and other advanced applications that require a lot of bandwidth.

If more data can be sent through Internet pipes at faster speeds, Google believes people will spend more time on the Internet - an activity that typically enriches the company by bringing more traffic to its dominant search engine and producing more opportunities to show revenue-generating ads.

(MPR reporter Bob Kelleher contributed to this report.)

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