Google Broadband Sought by Topeka, Boulder, Other U.S. Cities

Google plans on testing one or more high-speed broadband networks in a select number of midsized U.S. cities, and has asked interested municipalities to provide information about their communities that will allow Google to make its decision. That has led Topeka, Kan., to change its name temporarily to Google, and other towns such as Grand Rapids, Mich., to launch massive social networking campaigns. Google, however, is choosing to keep its decision-making process under wraps.

Pop quiz: What do the cities of Topeka, Kan., Boulder, Colo., Aspen, Colo., Park City, Utah, Grand Rapids, Mich. and an increasing number of U.S. cities have in common? They are all either competing or mulling over whether to compete for a contract to test-market a Google broadband service. Topeka even went so far as to temporarily change its name, which means "to dig good potatoes" in local Native American dialect, to "Google."

Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten's proclamation changing the city's name for one month apparently is not even remotely legal. As a purely symbolic gesture, however, it is meant to draw Google's attention to the city as a possible testbed for the service, which will reportedly be 50 to 100 times faster than existing networks.

But the name change may not be enough, at least if other cities such as Boulder or Grand Rapids have anything to say about it. Those municipalities are also competing for the Google test network, even if they're unwilling to set their founders rolling in their graves by changing their names.

"Google is planning to launch an experiment that we hope will make Internet access better and faster for everyone," Google said on a Website dedicated to the fiber optic trial. "We plan to test ultrahigh-speed broadband networks in one or more trial locations across the country. Our networks will deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today, over 1G-bps, fiber-to-the-home connections."

The service will be offered "at a competitive price" to a test pool ranging in size from between 50,000 and 500,000 people, which represents a broad strata of potential cities. The note continues, "From now until March 26, we're asking interested municipalities to provide us with information about their communities through a Request for Information (RFI), which we'll use to determine where to build our network."

That prospect led cities to launch their own campaigns to pull in Google. A group calling itself Grand Rapids Technology Partners, for example, has been urging people to emphasize the city's Google viability on social networks. "We don't know what is going to draw them," Ashima Saigal, a community activist in Grand Rapids, told a local news station.

In Ann Arbor, Mich., both city executives and officials from the University of Michigan have been asking locals to post their preference on Facebook and YouTube, and have launched a dedicated Website designed to lure Google.

But as with so many of its other initiatives, Google is choosing to play its decision-making process close to the proverbial vest. If nothing else, that may drive some enterprising municipality to attempt an even more whimsical stunt.