Civic

Mar. 3, 2010 8:00 am

Philadelphia to apply for Google’s experimental ultra-high speed broadband

It wasn’t at a press conference or inside the Inquirer editorial boardroom. The city’s announcement to join the rush for Google’s ultra-high speed fiber broadband came during a few minutes of a presentation, backed by dense slides at a technology community event inside a rock venue. “Let’s light this joint up,” city Chief Technology Officer […]

It wasn’t at a press conference or inside the Inquirer editorial boardroom. The city’s announcement to join the rush for Google’s ultra-high speed fiber broadband came during a few minutes of a presentation, backed by dense slides at a technology community event inside a rock venue.

“Let’s light this joint up,” city Chief Technology Officer Allan Frank said, throwing his hands in the air and walking off stage at the fifth Ignite Philly, seemingly surprised by the cheers and laughs the slide earned.

The announcement at Johnny Brenda’s last night, a bar filled with mostly 20 and 30-somethings, came 10 months after Frank first unveiled his $100 million city technology investment vision to Refresh Philly, another young, hip, technology community event staple. Technically Philly urged continued involvement by the community and Frank and, in many ways, that’s continued.

The decision marks something of a marriage between likely the city’s two most prominent officials whom have hands in the region’s technology community: the son of a former mayor and, as City Councilman Bill Green put it last night, “the baddest ass CTO of any city, Allan Frank.”

Watch Frank’s presentation at Ignite Philly. Story continues below…
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Google’s ultra-high speed network could potentially help stimulate economic development in Philadelphia’s technology sector, city officials say, like Mayor Nutter’s recently announced plans to provide tax incentives to city technology firms.

Plans to compete for Google’s fiber were initiated privately on Friday at a Division of Technology meeting, which included local tech community leaders, held to discuss Philadelphia’s interest in the pilot broadband initiative. Google says that the network’s 1 gigabit data transfer is up to 100 times faster than what is currently available in American homes.

Google has issued a Request for Information to municipalities considering the option, with plans to bring the connectivity to 50,000 to 500,000 individuals across the country. Building the high-speed network would help stimulate next-generation Web applications, new infrastructure deployment techniques and it would help shape the conversation around broadband policy, the search giant hopes.

City CTO Frank and Councilman-at-Large Green are working together to put together an application for the program.

“The Mayor supports both Bill and I working together on this. He sees this as a tremendous opportunity to ask the question ‘what would this do for the city if we had 1 gigabit connectivity,'” Frank said at the planning meeting.

Officials are focusing on representing Philadelphia’s strengths, like its wireless network infrastructure, vibrant technology community and underserved workforce. They’re also discussing where they would like the network built, like along a stretch of creative economy tech businesses between Old City and Fishtown and in research and development-heavy University City.

Officials are also carefully weighing their options of building a competitive network in Comcast‘s backyard. It’s possible, they say, that Google could be interested in building in Philadelphia to help influence public policy around net neutrality issues for that very reason, or that Comcast could be coerced into build an ultra high-speed network here.

Below, watch a video of Google Product Manager James Kelly explaining the company’s broadband initiative.

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Google is expecting to spend ‘hundreds of millions’ of dollars on the networks, Bloomberg reported last week.

Philadelphia is certainly not a lone contender. Baltimore created an impressive collaborative Web presence vying for Google’s attention, featuring support from more than 690 Baltimoreans and 83 partner organizations. Officials in the Kansas state capital announced it was temporarily changing the city’s name from Topeka to Google, in hopes to carry favor in the decision-making process.

Other cities, like Pittsburgh and Seattle are also putting together applications for Google’s municipal pilot. With the application due March 26, many cities are preparing emergency motions to apply, Government Technology reports.

Like Baltimore, Philadelphia officials are hoping that locals will help amplify its message. Some folks in the city have already started to do that, like forum members on PhiladelphiaSpeaks. There’s also been a community push to nominate Philly for Google’s fiber program on Twitter. More than a dozen folks have tweeted the prospect with hashtag #phillyfiber.

Indy Hall co-founder Alex Hillman tells Technically Philly that the coworking space will host a hackday on Saturday, March 6, from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., to create the promotional and developmental presence of the city’s Google RFI.

“Who wants to get together to make a video for Google to come to us,” Philadelphia Speaks user giraffe42 posted last week.

The City of Philadelphia sure does.

Technically Philly staff writer Christopher Wink contributed to this report.

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Brian James Kirk

Brian James Kirk is a cofounder of Technical.ly, the local technology news network. Previously, Kirk was Web Editor of PlanPhilly, an independent online news resource covering planning and development issues in Philadelphia, and a freelance writer and designer. He resides in South Philadelphia.

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