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Editor's Notes: Getting Google's attention

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Robin Doussard
Monday, March 22, 2010

Mayors across the country have been throwing themselves in icy waters and shark tanks and renaming their cities, children and ice cream after Google, all in the hopes of getting a free super high-speed broadband network. Portland over the weekend staged a game of Telephone.

This really can’t compete with babies named Google Fiber, though it does have its charms in a PDX geeky kind of way (it was dubbed “Woo the Goog”). The city hoped it would be the world's longest game of Telephone, where a sentence is whispered from one player to the next until the end, when the beginning and ending phrases are compared. Alas, it was nowhere near the crowd needed to break the 2004 record of 614 people. (Official crowd estimates are still to be released, but one early attendee said maybe 50 were there at the start.) At the Saturday event, the first Telephone sentence uttered was: "PDX has the brains and nerve to welcome Google high speed.” The last one, received by an 8-year-old (and who better, I say): "The Internet place is really great."

Who can argue with that, Mr. Google?

Which just goes to show you, “Telephone is much more dangerous than sharks,” said Portland Mayor Sam Adams yesterday. The city council last week approved the efforts to get the Google project. Adams, when pressed about whether he would consider another stunt to up the ante demurred. “We don’t have to do big stunts,” he said. But then quickly reconsidered and said, “Although if we get word that it would help, we’ll do it.” A quick aside to an aide revealed that his life insurance premiums might not be paid, so we’ll have to see how that all works out.

The stakes are pretty astounding. Google says it will build and test Google Fiber in several trial locations, and then offer service at “competitive prices” to 50,000 to 500,000 customers. That network would have speeds of 1 gigabit per second, or in pure technical language it will be super damned fast. The deadline for cities to get in their application is this Friday and the competition is pretty fearsome, with dozens throwing themselves at Google’s feet, or into shark tanks, because Google says community involvement will be important in awarding the project.

The response has been overwhelming. "We didn't anticipate this kind of grass roots enthusiasm," Google spokesman Dan Martin told the Wall Street Journal. “The message that's being sent is that there's a hunger and appetite for better and faster Internet service.”

The hunger isn't that sharp everywhere. City of Bend communications manager Justin Finestone said yesterday that the staff never took the idea to its city council. “We didn’t think it was the city’s role to facilitate competition in the private sector,” Finestone said. “We have really good service here. If Google wants to come here, they’re more than welcome, but because it is a good market, not because we begged them.”

No jumping out of airplanes for these folks. Unless Redmond gets the project.

Calls to mayors around the state were slow to come back. I really want to know what Stu Rasmussen, the mayor of Silverton, has to say about all of this. I know Silverton might be too tiny to really be in the game, but one can only imagine, nay hope, what the country’s first transgendered mayor might cook up to get Google's attention.

Robin Doussard is editor of Oregon Business.

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