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Local effort puts Aspen on Google radar

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Aspen-area residents are among Internet users across the country who are campaigning to entice Google to test a high-speed broadband network in their community.

The Internet search engine giant has announced its intention to offer ultra-speedy access to at least 50,000 people and up to 500,000 people in one or more trial locations. Interested citizens and municipalities are asked to provide Google with information by March 26. Nationwide, the request has spawned everything from grass-roots citizen efforts to organized municipal campaigns to lure the Google project.

Dozens of Facebook pages are aimed at enticing Google to various markets.

Locally, the Rural Broadband Cooperative has set up a Facebook page – Bring Google Fiber to Aspen, Colorado and the Valley – where Facebook users can click to the Google site to nominate their community.

Says the page: “Google is accepting nominations for towns that are interested in Google’s gigabit fiberoptic Internet service.

“Let’s do this together and let Google know we’d love to see them bring super fast fiber interconnections to the valley.”

The page had 48 members on Wednesday, compared to thousands for similar efforts in some metropolitan communities.

Alex Huppenthal, a part-time Aspen resident and one of a handful of activists behind the Rural Broadband Cooperative, has been focusing his efforts locally on convincing Pitkin County government to seek federal funds to extend Internet service to the rural areas of the county.

The Google project is a separate initiative, but Huppenthal figures Aspen just might prove an attractive locale.

“Why would I nominate Aspen? Because we had the first accessible, low-cost broadband in the nation,” said Huppenthal, who had a hand in setting up that system (Aspen Internet Exchange). The presence of organizations like The Aspen Institute, and the efforts of the cooperative, could also prove enticing, he reasoned.

Google says it does not intend to become an Internet Service Provider, or IPS, but will lay fiber-optic cable to the home to provide Internet service that is, according to Huppenthal, 50 to 100 times faster than anything available currently from service providers. The service will be offered at a competitive price, according to Google.

“It’s significantly, break-though kind of speed faster,” said Huppenthal, who is working to assemble a proposal.

The Google project could dovetail with the Rural Broadband Cooperative’s push to extend Internet service into rural areas of Pitkin County, he added. The cooperative undertook a demonstration project to show how high-speed broadband service could be extended into rural areas via wireless technology, but Huppenthal said he has had no success convincing county officials to allocate time or staff resources to seek American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds for a broader project. He approached county commissioners with the idea in December.

A March deadline for the federal funding application is looming and Huppenthal said the cooperative would like to put together a proposal for some of the money, even if it’s a small amount. He’s not optimistic it can be pulled together without county participation, though.

The cooperative has launched an online petition targeted at county commissioners. It had 62 signatures as of Wednesday, but none posted more recently than December.

To find the petition, go to http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/rural-broadband-internet-pitkin-county#signatures.

For more on the Google project, go to http://www.google.com/appserve/fiberrfi/public/overview.

janet@aspentimes.com


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