The city of Durham hopes to be a guinea pig for Google’s upcoming “Fiber for Communities” Internet experiment.
Durham is among municipalities across the country applying to be subjects of the experiment, which Google hopes will build and test ultra-high speed broadband networks in a few trial locations, according to the Google project overview Web site. The network would be more than a hundred times faster than most commercially-available options. Representatives from the city government, Duke, North Carolina Central University and Durham businesses met Friday to structure Durham’s application, which is due March 26, said Durham Deputy City Manager Wanda Page.
Although the time frame of the experiment and cost and construction requirements were not clarified by Google, the project’s Web site notes that a large amount of construction may be necessary for the project. According to the overview, a long-term goal resulting from the experiment is the development of a national broadband plan that will become a federally-funded infrastructure project.
“By some estimates nearly 90 percent of the cost of deploying fiber is associated with construction costs like tearing up and repairing roads,” Richard Whitt, Google’s senior policy director, wrote on Google’s public policy blog. “Laying fiber… during the construction or repair of roads and other public works projects will dramatically reduce deployment costs.”
Page said that although the information regarding the experiment from Google was vague, Durham had nothing to lose by applying.
“The only thing that we have is that Google has put perimeters around the program that at least 50,000 locations could have access to this network, and potentially up to 500,000,” Page said. “This is a very wide range, but we know that we fit into that number in terms of the size of our community. We have no idea exactly what they are looking for in terms of making the final selection.”
The application focused on infrastructure, community engagement and innovation, Page wrote in an e-mail.
Because of the uncertainty regarding the experiment’s requirements and Durham’s participation, city officials are unsure of the level of Duke’s potential involvement, Page said. Representatives from Duke and the Office of Information Technology did not return requests for comment.
Page said that she did not know whether the new Internet service would be provided by Google or through other broadband carriers. She said that because a construction requirement is possible, Durham will look to both internal and external resources to provide funding if necessary.
“We always prioritize our programs [so] that we are able to fund with the dollars that we have,” Page said. “At the time that we become aware that there could be a funding requirement, we would be at a decision point at that time to look for resources that we have.”
Google spokesperson Dan Martin said Google planned to finance the cost of building the broadband network.
“Our current plan is to manage the development of this experimental network ourselves, though we will likely work with a variety of outside partners as needed,” Martin said. “We intend to finance the full cost of building this network.”
Martin said Google plans to allow the residents of chosen communities to continue using their own Internet providers if they choose to.
“As part of the planned trial, Google will offer competitively priced, high speed Internet access service to residents of the chosen communities,” Martin said. “In addition, we will allow third-parties to offer their own Internet access services, or other data services, on our open network – consumers won’t be required to use Google as their Internet service provider.”
Page said that if Durham is selected, the experiment will be a good way to further the development of technology in the city.
“We are really excited about [applying],” she said. “Whenever we can have an opportunity to bring technology to an area like Durham, we become excited. We’re just hopeful.”
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