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UPDATED WireAlameda hones its pitch to Google

Submitted by on 1, February 25, 2010 – 5:50 am2 Comments

By Stacy Lawrence

Updated 10:09 a.m. Thursday, February 25

Under a tight deadline, a group of Alameda residents is working to help bring ultra high speed broadband to the Island. They’re planning to submit a proposal in response to a request for information process launched by Google that is due March 26.

Google made the announcement on its blog on February 10. The next day, Alamedan Jim Meyer was working on pulling together a group of community members, dubbed WireAlameda, to pitch the town as the perfect test case. He put up a web site that day and the group, which at last count has 5 core members, had its first meeting a few days later. Meyer has been an executive at or on the board of a handful of technology companies.

“This level of change would be transformative,” Meyer said. He said the service could help schools easily participate in distance learning and virtual classrooms, would allow Alameda Hospital to engage specialists from around the world remotely, and could attract businesses that use a lot of bandwidth or develop applications that do to Alameda Point.

Later this year, the Bay Area search engine giant will select target communities for the project. Ultimately, Google will choose one or more locations to lay fiber-to-the-home connections to 50,000 to 500,000 people. They say the connections would provide 100 times faster Internet speeds at a competitive price, a necessity to experiment with the next-generation online applications that Google hopes to provide.

Meyer said the group has reached out to the City Council, the Mayor’s office, and the City Manager’s office. He said they are being very helpful, even helping the group to find space to meet.

Deputy City Manager Jennifer Ott said the city is working with Meyer’s group and will be submitting an application to Google.

“We’re going full speed ahead,” Ott said.

In order to move forward in partnership with the city government, Meyer said they need to determine if when Alameda Municipal Power sold its telecom business to Comcast in 2008, it also sold the fiber backbone and whether the city signed a non-compete agreement. The former may not be a deal killer, but the latter could mean that the city couldn’t formally participate.

AMP spokesman Matt McCabe said the utility did not sell its fiber backbone to Comcast. Comcast spokesman Andrew Johnson said the telecom’s deal with the city does not contain a non-compete clause (he said federal law prohibits telecom franchises from establishing non-compete clauses).

Although Google has said it will accept proposals from community members, not just city governments, it also made clear in the details of its request that it’s looking for a very smooth roll out of the technology with minimal logistical hurdles. Meyer said that Google is looking for a “single point of contact” at the city government level that will enable them to successfully navigate the innovative installation.

Currently, AT&T has its own fiber backbone to Alameda that then breaks out into copper lines to individual homes, added Meyer. (Comcast’s Johnson said their system uses higher-capacity fiber to the node.) AT&T is in the midst of setting up its U-verse service in Alameda, which would provide high-speed digital Internet and other services.

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