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Locals push for Google Fiber in Iowa City

BY MITCHELL SCHMIDT | MARCH 23, 2010 7:30 AM

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Many Iowa City residents have gotten used to a slow Internet connection.

But that could change if the city succeeds in its push for an online network that could possibly save Internet users from long loading times.The savior: fiber-optic networks.

Google announced last month the company is looking for a community to test its ultra-high speed broadband network — Google Fiber.

How fast is a fiber-optic connection? Try one gigabit per second — more than 100 times faster than the area’s current speed.

Fiber-optic wires use mirrors to transmit light, unlike connections that now travel via copper wires and offer speeds of about 10 megabytes per second in Iowa City.

“Fiber theoretically has no limit,” said Karl Taylor, a University of Iowa junior who started a Facebook group to advocate bringing the system to the area. “There’s no limit on the speed of the line itself.”

This possibility raised interest among members of the community, including Kristopher Ackerson, Johnson County Council of Governments assistant transportation planner. Ackerson said he also believes the Iowa City area, with its mix of small and large businesses and student population, would be an ideal candidate for Google’s new network.

Representatives from Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, the UI, and University Heights have formed the Iowa City Area Broadband Coalition, and it will submit a joint application by the deadline Friday.

Then everyone will have to “wait and see,” Ackerson said.

Google officials haven’t offered a description of their ideal city, beyond the criteria that it have a population of between 50,000 and 500,000.

Ackerson encourages area residents interested in the project to show their support on the Nominate Iowa City Area for Google Fiber Facebook page, which currently has more than 900 fans.

“College students provide a group of people that are creative and will take advantage of the technology if it is here,” he said.

Joshua Schamberger, the president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Google would finance the installation of the system and there would be no cost to the city.

However, students won’t see a difference in Internet speeds on campus, said Mark Katsouros, the UI director of telecommunication and network services.

The UI already has enterprise-class network connectivity, and Google Fiber targets residential areas and small to medium-sized businesses.

“By all means, it would dramatically enhance the capabilities of the community,” Katsouros noted.

A network such as Google Fiber would allow for enhanced online meetings and community groups, said Nick Bergus, telecommunications production coordinator for North Liberty.

Bergus, also an adjunct instructor in the School of Journalism, said the new network could allow for greater competition among service providers because Google will allow other companies to use its network once it’s installed.

Taylor agreed, noting the network would put prices closer to cost or allow “ma-and-pa” local providers to become established in the area.


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