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Spokane: Google Me 

Spokane joins the competition to persuade Google to build hyper-speed Internet connections

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In a sort of municipal high-tech version of Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket promotion, Google announced that one (or more) lucky cities will be the testing ground for super high-speed Internet. But which city?

“Spokane!” hundreds of Spokanites shouted simultaneously.

For a super-power, American Internet speeds are pathetic. Our average speed is less than half the average rate of Internet connections in Finland, Sweden, France and the Netherlands, and a fifth as fast as in Korea and Japan.

Google wants to change that. Their high-speed fiber-optic vision calls for Internet with speeds up to one gigabyte per second — up to 100 times faster than you’d usually get from Comcast and Qwest.

The day after the Google announced the search, city power players — including Avista Utilities, the city of Spokane, Greater Spokane Incorporated and Time Warner Telecom — met to discuss whether it was worth pursuing. The consensus? Go for it.

“We know that every piece of infrastructure, whether roadway, railway… or fiber, adds value to our community,” says Robin Toth, vice president of economic development for Greater Spokane Incorporated. “We know that it adds another level of expertise and learning capability for students.”

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist goes even further, speculating that, perhaps, super-fast Internet could reduce Spokane student-dropout rates.

Of course, other cities want it just as much. Topeka temporarily changed its name to Google, Kansas, and a video from the mayor’s office in Duluth jokingly promises to require all future sons of that Minnesota town be named “Google Fiber.” Our own town put up a YouTube video promoting Spokane in the style of a very low-budget newscast from Mary Verner’s desk.

City officials lay out a slew of less entertaining arguments for picking Spokane: Spokane’s a hub for education and medical industries for the region. Spokane’s size and self-contained location has long made it ideal for beta-testing. It’s home to the 30-acre fiber-optic Terabyte Triangle network, the GigaPop 10-gig-a-second pipeline to the University of Washington and the once-revolutionary downtown HotZone free wireless area.

“We’re probably as wired or more wired than any other city in the country,” says Garv Brakel of the city’s Management Information Services.

And to show that Spokane has Google spirit, the city started a Facebook group called “Hey Google, Pick Spokane,” that has 3,230 fans and counting. Some comments come from boosters while others are more desperate. (“Please pick Spokane, we need a jolt...”)

Avista is one company stoked about the possibility. Regional business manager Steve Trabun says Avista’s willing to let Google use preexisting utility poles to build their fiber infrastructure.

About 20 percent of Spokane’s utility poles, however, are owned by Qwest Communications. Considering Qwest would compete with any new high-speed Internet provider, don’t expect them to join the “Pick Spokane” fan page anytime soon. 

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