Culture, food and fashion, step aside: New Haven could be on its way to becoming a mecca for Internet technology.
Last Friday, the city submitted its application for a contest hosted by Google that would build an experimental “ultra high-speed” broadband network known as Google Fiber in a select number of target communities. It would offer Internet speeds of over one gigabit per second — more than 100 times faster than what most Americans, including members of the Yale community, have access to today — and provide the winning city or cities access to new Google programs.
More than 1,100 communities applied to become the first host of the Google Fiber network. While online research experts said the competition has been fierce and other cities across the country have demonstrated a more robust online campaign, city officials and those involved with crafting its application say New Haven is still a very strong candidate.
Jack Nork, a New Haven resident who works for local Internet start-up Retail Optimization Inc., spearheaded a grassroots movement over the last three weeks to bring Google’s network to the Elm City. He said that, if selected, New Haven would be able to show the world what the possibilities are at that level of internet speed: three-dimensional medical imaging over the Web and download times of five minutes or less for high-definition, full-length-feature films, according to competition Web site. (Currently, at Yale’s connection speeds of 10 to 20 megabits per second, similar downloads could take hours.)
“What is today considered massive amounts of data would really become trivial, and the things you could do would be endless,” Nork added.
City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said in an interview Wednesday that New Haven should stand out in the application process because it is a “unique community that brings together a blend of different institutions,” such as science, education and medical research facilities.
As part of the competition, Google requested that each municipality create a YouTube channel and upload clips demonstrating both a demand for Google Fiber and highlighting what sets it apart. New Haven’s YouTube channel, called GoogleHaven, contains testimonies from groups such as the Boys and Girls Club of New Haven and New Haven Public Schools. Nork added that both Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital signed on as two of the 1,196 partners on an online petition accompanying the city’s application.
Nork said the city, with about 120,000 residents, is right in the middle range of municipality sizes Google is hoping to target. According to the competition’s Web site, Google would like the experimental network to reach a total of at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.
Nork added that Google has pledged to cover the cost of installing the fiber infrastructure, and Google said in February, when it announced the competition, that the service will be at “a competitive price.”
At the same time, New Haven does face some very stiff competition.
Apart from publicity stunts such as Sarasota, Fla., Mayor Richard Clapp jumping into a tank of bonnet-head sharks and a proclamation by Topeka, Kan., Mayor William Bunten to rename the city to Google, Kan., for the month of March 2010, research has shown that other cities have demonstrated a more sustained effort in spreading the word of why their communities should receive Google Fiber.
A study conducted by Steketee Greiner Co., a Michigan-based online research firm, analyzed over 90 competing cities across the United States and compiled a top-10 list measuring the cities’ Web-based promotional campaigns, which includes Facebook posts and online forums. The study, which did not mention New Haven, concluded that Grand Rapids, Mich., Duluth, Minn., and Portland, Ore., had the strongest online presence.
Still, New Haven residents should have hope, Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances “Bitsie” Clark said Wednesday.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Clark said. “The whole idea is to take risks and chances. A smart group of people put together our application, and I think New Haven would be an ideal city.”
Mayorga added that the city will know if it has been selected as a finalist in 60 days, at which point a representative from Google will visit the city, meet with officials, and further assess its suitability for the network. According to the competition Web site, Google will announce their decision by the end of the year.