Hawaii applies to join Google's superspeed broadband frontier
BY Greg Wiles
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i state and county officials are pitching Google Inc. in the hopes of landing one of the free ultra-high speed broadband networks the company is proposing to install around the country.
Officials yesterday were putting the finishing touches on a unified application to Google that notes Hawai'i's diversity of people and geography as well as pledging to work quickly to obtain regulatory approvals when needed.
"This would be just terrific," said Ron Boyer, acting director of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. "We think the state is the right place."
The problem is dozens of other municipalities across the country also think they are the "right place" for the Fiber for Communities project.
Google announced the project last month, saying it wanted to provide a small number of trial locations with broadband networks capable of transmitting data at 1 gigabit per second, or at speeds that are more than 100 times faster than what most Americans access today.
Google said it will provide fiber-to-the-home connections at a competitive price to at least 50,000 people and potentially up to 500,000.
At 1 gigabit per second, people will be able to stream 3-D medical images over the Web, download a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes, or remotely watch a university lecture live in 3-D, the company said.
Google wants to experiment with the faster speeds to see what application developers and users can do with blazing Internet access as well as test new ways to build fiber networks. It will also open up the networks for other service providers to use.
The offer has resulted in a stampede of cities filing applications for the trials, with some municipalities trying to draw attention to their bids by temporarily renaming streets or entire cities "Google." Some mayors have jumped in icy water and tanks filled with sharks to gain an edge.
Locally, resolutions are pending before the Legislature urging Google to select Hawai'i. It notes a number of benefits that can result, including helping underserved medical areas link up with specialists and boosting distance learning access for adults and children.
There also has been a grassroots effort in Hawai'i's technology community to lobby for a network here, with the Hawaii Gigabit Broadband Coalition putting together a Web site asking people to sign a supporting petition.
That site notes Hawai'i's geographic isolation, its slow average Internet download speeds and the benefits the state derives being connected to the Web.
As of yesterday afternoon a little more than 3,000 people had signed the petition at www.petitionspot.com/petitions/gigabithi/.
The organizers had hoped to attract 50,000 supporters.
"What this really needs is a parade down the street," said Jay Fidell, a Honolulu attorney active in technology issues who runs the www.thinktechhawaii.com Web site.
"It needs thousands of people making it clear to Google that this state could benefit from this."
It doesn't appear that a parade or gambits by one of Hawai'i's mayors are in the cards. Boyer said the state and counties have been more focused in the past month on putting together as complete and compelling an application as possible.
"We put a lot of work into this and have thought this thing through," Boyer said. "It's not like we're going to change our name for a day to say, 'Hey, look at us.' "
He said Google has asked for extensive information, down to what topographical features are in the subject areas. The proposal also notes Lingle's personal commitment to expediting state approvals and her past support for installation of faster broadband in the state.
Lingle and county mayors are in the process of making their pitches on video that also will be uploaded to Google, a search engine company that also owns YouTube. Within the application are proposals from each of the counties.
Hawai'i County spokesman Kevin Dayton said his county's proposal talks about the possibility of piggybacking the project on fiber-optic networks installed in recent years in Hawaiian homestead areas.
"They will get four proposals from the counties then one from us on top of it all," Boyer said.
Boyer said the application also calls attention to Hawai'i's efforts to mobilize and work together on the Hawai'i Clean Energy Initiative that has a goal of getting 70 percent of energy from clean sources in the next 20 years.
He said the state and counties hope to submit their application today. Google has set an application deadline of Friday.