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  • 22 Sep 2014

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Metro area on short list to join Google high-speed 'fiber hood'

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO BY JONATHAN HOUSE - Portland Mayor Charlies Hales is all smiles at the Good Fiber news conference. Behind him (from left) are city Commisisoner Dan Saltzman and Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle.If Google Fiber comes to town, some Portlanders probably will drop their existing cable companies. They instead will use Google’s ultra-high-speed, fiber-optic broadband system to stream videos, programs, movies and games directly to their TVs and computers.

But to many businesses, Google Fiber means being more competitive. That’s especially true for the growing number of high-tech companies in the region — and it explains why two of their representatives appeared at the news conference where Google’s interest in the Portland metropolitan area was announced.

Skip Newberry, director of the Oregon Software Association, said the faster download speeds encourage new companies to open in the region and stay as they grow. And that opinion was echoed by Luke Kanies, chief executive of Portland software company Puppet Labs.

“It would be really important for us to keep growing. It would be a major enabler of what we want to be today and tomorrow,” said Kaines, whose company doubled its work force to 240 employees last year.

Google officials announced six cities in the region are on their national short list for its fiber system at the news conference, which was held at Portland City Hall on Feb. 19. They are Portland, Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro, Lake Oswego and Tigard.

“We’re thrilled that Google is starting the conversation with cities in this region,” said Darcy Nothnagle, the company’s western regional public affairs and government relations director.

The service — which is 100 times faster than conventional broadband — is only offered in a handful of other metropolitan areas in the country. The company is considering expanding into eight other metropolitan areas. No prices have been announced.

The cities are not required to put any money into the effort. Instead, they must convince Google that the existing infrastructure can support running its system to areas it identifies as potential “fiber hoods.” The governments also must assure the companies they can quickly issue the large number of permits needed to complete the project on time.

Nothnagle said the company needs to receive the information by May. It will decide where to expand by the end of the year, and work is expected to begin in 2015.

Mayors from five of the six cities attended the news conference, indicting their willingness to work with Google to meet the company’s needs.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said the city has been working for years for such an opportunity. It has researched and adopted a citywide broadband policy that lays the groundwork for Google’s entry into the market, he said.

“Google is looking for communities that serve as hubs for innovation. And that’s Portland,” Hales said. “Our culture of creativity and coalition-building makes this the ideal spot for ultra-high-speed broadband.”

Commissioner Amanda Fritz revealed that the city has been lobbying Google to come to town for years. Holding up a bottle of a local craft beer, she said David Olson, the former director of the Office of Community Technology, had personally delivered samples to company executives at conferences.

Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle was equally excited, but said it is important that everyone is served, regardless of income levels.

“It is really important that the equity piece is included,” Doyle said.

Gresham Mayor Shane Beamis said the effort is an example of regional cooperation.

“This is a great day for the entire Portland region,” Beamis said.

Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey said he thinks the existing high-tech companies in his city also would benefit from such a network.

“We have a need for speed and can’t think of a better place to put this innovation in place,” he said.

And Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker said high-speed broadband is critical for attracting young families to the region. “The younger generation looks at high-speed broadband as a basic service,” Studebaker said.

The other metropolitan areas under consideration are: Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Phoenix; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Salt Lake City; San Antonio; and San Jose, Calif. Google Fiber is available in Kansas City, Kan., Kansas City, Mo., and Provo, Utah, and will be available in Austin, Texas, later this year.

For more information, visit the Google Fiber blog at http://www.googlefiberblog.blogspot.com.