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Bainbridge joins pursuit of Google broadband network

Add Bainbridge Island to the list of hundreds of cities competing to become a test case for Google’s upcoming fiber-optic broadband network.

Google, the Internet search giant founded in California, plans to expand upon its popular search engine and enter the arena of providing Internet service in the near future. Last month, the company announced that it was searching for cities in which to test the network, which the company said works at 100 times the speed currently available.

Bainbridge responded immediately.

Last week, several citizens formed the group Google for Bainbridge, and two city councilors were appointed to an ad-hoc committee to develop a municipal application for the program and also to find ways for the public to get involved.

“From the smallest communities to the biggest cities, people are trying to get this opportunity,” said city Councilor Kirsten Hytopoulos, who is one of two councilors working on the application. “If we’re going to have any kind of chance, this will have to come from the community.”

With all it is dealing with currently, Hytopoulos said, the city has neither the time nor the resources to produce a creative and persuasive entry, so the talents of the community will be key.

The program is set up so cities can submit applications, while individuals can nominate their communities as well. The number of recommendations and submissions from community members factors into Google’s decision making process.

Increased online capacity would serve a multitude of purposes on the island, said Councilor Barry Peters, the other member of the ad-hoc committee. Peters, and resident Bob Fortner, a member of Google for Bainbridge, pictured a Bainbridge in which students can video chat with cohorts at sister schools on the other side of the world, in which medical professionals can seamlessly connect with diagnostic centers and other services, and in which people can stream many of Bainbridge’s shows or concerts into their living rooms.

But most of all, the broadband network would help perk up the business community.

“It would put us in position as a community to attract businesses that would bring living wages to Bainbridge, that’s been seen in other areas of the country where communities have access to this kind of broadband,” Fortner said. “It’s especially important for the island which doesn’t have big box stores; we fall short of other communities this size in sales tax revenue. This is our opportunity to make up some of that difference.”

Peters echoed Fortner’s belief that the network would assist businesses already heavily involved online, such as Bainbridge Island Television and the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and help bring new high-tech business to the island.

But Bainbridge faces stiff competition in this endeavor.

Competitors have used a variety of means to get the attention of Google, including Youtube videos and campaign Web sites. One city even changed its name in an attempt to woo Google.

According to media reports, the city of Topeka, Kan., decided to change its name to Google, Kansas, “the capital city of fiber optics” for the remainder of the month.

The application must be completed by March 26. Google said it will announce the community or communities it has chosen sometime this year.

Google said it plans to test the product in somewhere between 50,000 and 500,000 homes. The number of cities that will be picked to test the product remains unknown.

The network will be sold at comparable rates to other Internet service providers, the company said on the network’s Web site.

A higher-speed network could help Bainbridge more than other cities because of its geography. With a large percentage of residents dependent on the ferries to get to and from work every day, the Google network could create a more dependable option for telecommuting and working from home.

Best of all, the network comes at no net cost to the cash-strapped city. Google will install the network for whichever communities are chosen.

The news of the new broadband network comes concurrent with an increased federal and state effort to promote Internet access. More than $7 billion in stimulus dollars has already been committed to hooking up homes, businesses, health clinics and other entities. This week the state of Washington was awarded $84 million in grants to increase broadband access throughout the state.

Federally and statewide, the desire for better Internet service is clear. On Bainbridge, those pursuing the chance at Google broadband believe it could enhance everything from business, to the arts to communication.

“The potential is infinite,” Fortner said.

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Get involved

The local group, Google for Bainbridge, has started up its own Web site where community members can contribute.

To nominate Bainbridge for the program, visit the Google broadband Web site.

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