Cities Rush into High Speed Internet

By Bob Diddlebock

June 17, 2011


Last year, when Google announced it wanted to build and test-drive a new hyper-speed fiber optic network in a U.S. community, more than 1,000 cities applied. Municipal officials from everywhere offered everything from tax abatements to free advertising. Topeka, Kansas briefly changed its name, officially, to “Google.” In March, Google chose Topeka’s neighbor, Kansas City, Kansas to be the home of its new super-fast voice, video and data system. But the competition for Google’s attention underscored an important fact: Cities around the country have come to view high-speed access to the Internet as infrastructure that’s as critical to their future as interstate highways were in the past.

Last year, Chattanooga’s city-owned utility began offering an ultra-high-speed Internet service of up to one gigabyte a second, or 200 times faster than the average broadband speed in America. City officials say building the service, which was funded in part by federal stimulus dollars, is a component of an economic plan that they hope will bring jobs. Denver, too, has pushed to boost high-speed access across its metro. City officials there say broadband capabilities give them the leverage to pitch companies about relocating parts of their operations — say, human resources, accounting or customer service — to Denver instead of going the long-shot, entire-company route. “It has made us much more competitive with other markets, and that led to a lot of tech growth,” says economist Richard L. Wobbekind of the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo.

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