Fiber connectivity lays the foundation for development of the next generation of online applications and services, Google Product Manager Minnie Ingersoll said during a presentation yesterday at the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise. Ingersoll, who heads up Google's Gigabit project — a plan to wire one or two select U.S. cities with a 1 Gigabit fiber network — was one of several speakers participating in the Fiber Fete broadband summit taking place this week in Lafayette.

Ingersoll said the Google Gigabit project was born after several failed attempts to lobby the Federal Communications Commission to lead the way in wiring cities with fiber as part of its national broadband strategy. "Then we said, 'why are we telling the FCC to do this? We're fully capable of stepping up and doing this ourselves."  

Google announced its plans to build out a 1 Gig fiber network for one or two communities, and approximately 50,000 to 500,000 people, in February. It received more than 200,000 responses from individual and communities, including Lafayette, to its online form application. Google plans to announce the selected city or cities before the end of the year.

Lafayette's application centered on its recent success in building a municipally-owned fiber network. The network, which can reach internal speeds up to 100 megabits per second, can easily be upgraded to 1 Gigabit service, according to Lafayette Utilities System Director Terry Huval. Asked whether this gives Lafayette any kind of competitive edge for the Gigabit project, Ingersoll responded: "I can't speak to whether Lafayette is better positioned than any other applicants but certainly the amount of infrastructure in Lafayette and the fact that this community has already taken on a lot of these issues is something we'll be looking at in reviewing their application."

Google has also stated that it intends to build, own and operate the networks, but that they won't be exclusive to any one Internet Service Provider, something that does not fit with Lafayette's current model. The Lafayette fiber network is operated by the publicly-owned Lafayette Utilities System, which must sell service to cover operation expenses and repay the bonds used to build the system.

In her presentation, Ingersoll gave the two main criteria Google is using in its review process. One is evaluating a city's infrastructure and the speed and efficiency with which the fiber network can be built. The other involves assessing community buy-in and how much the city would benefit from the project. "It really has to be a partnership," she said.

Ingersoll noted that Google would be looking to the community to help lead the way in the developing and testing new applications on the 1 Gig network. "It's going to be a lot of us listening to the communities. On the other hand, we have a lot of expertise with applications to where we could say, 'here's some things you could try.'" She emphasized that the idea is that, by openly sharing information about the project, even communities that are not selected can benefit from the lessons learned. "We want to be involved in every community to the extent that we can help catalyze those conversations," she said.

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