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Cities get creative to court Google broadband

By Megan Miller, CNN

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The race to win a new, ultra-fast broadband network from Google is heating up - or cooling off if you're the mayor of Duluth, Minnesota. He recently took a dip in the chilly waters of Lake Superior to get the search giant's attention.

The mayor of Sarasota, Florida tried to make a splash too by jumping into a shark tank to gin up some press.

Other cities are trying more strategic attempts to gain attention. For instance, Topeka, Kansas has temporarily renamed itself Google, Kansas. And Pittsburgh's Mayor has issued a press release outlining an aggressive web marketing campaign urging community members to petition on a grassroots website to get Google to come to Steel City.

"Sarasota businesses such as the Mote Marine Laboratory, which builds communications using high tech gear out on the water, could really use the connectivity to communicate with other research institutes around the world," said Mayor Dick Clapp.

The Florida community, along with other cities nationwide, have all been galvanized by the search giant's proposed plan to build a handful of high-speed broadband networks that offer speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, which is about 100 times faster than the average Internet connection. Applications to participate in the program are due this Friday, March 26th.

The response has been overwhelming. "We didn't anticipate this kind of grass roots enthusiasm," said Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) spokesman Dan Martin. The message that's being sent is that there's a hunger and appetite for better and faster Internet service."

Google says it hopes to have its first network up and running within a year.

Of course, it's not just consumers who stand to gain from access to lightening-speed broadband. Boosting speeds for Internet users is good for Google too.

"Google wins because the faster the broadband is, the more opportunity it has to develop advanced applications" that will boost revenues, said IDC Research analyst Matt Davis.

Google's announcement comes on the heels of the FCC's proposal to bring high-speed Internet access to 100 million Americans by 2020. In that proposal, the agency noted America's average download speeds of 4 megabits per second rank 15th in the world, according to the latest study from the Information Technology Industry Council.

"Google is hoping that when they show these fast broadband networks that stimulate innovation, the regulators, particularly the FCC who just passed the national broadband policy, will apply pressure to existing providers to upgrade networks more rapidly," said Davis.

Google plans to build a new fiber optic network from the ground up in whatever communities are selected. Then, after that infrastructure is in place, the search giant will allow other Internet service providers to use the network free of charge, and sell access to consumers.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently blogged about his company's plans. "Ubiquitous broadband connectivity can catapult America into the next level of economic competitiveness, worker productivity, and educational opportunity," he wrote, on "The Official Google Blog."

Don Ness, the Mayor of Duluth, Minnesota, recognized the importance of Google's mission to not only on his own city but to the country as a whole. "Communities like Duluth and many others across the nation are looking for the opportunity to be on the next forefront of American commerce," he said, " and we believe that this type of broadband investment will be a key of American prosperity." To top of page

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