KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - After seeing Facebook pleas and flash mobs, and even cities temporarily renaming themselves "Google," the search engine giant said Wednesday it has chosen Kansas City, Kan., as the first place that will get its new ultra-fast broadband network.
Google announced that the city would be the inaugural site for its "Fiber for Communities" program, which it says will be capable of delivering Internet access more than 100 times faster than the home broadband connections provided by phone and cable companies across the U.S.
The company envisions systems that will let consumers to download a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes, allow rural health clinics to send 3-D medical images over the Internet and let students collaborate with classmates around the world while watching live 3-D video of a university lecture.
Google's service, which will provide Internet connections of 1 gigabit per second to as many as 500,000 people, will be offered in early 2012 while the company looks at other communities across the country.
More than 1,100 cities had made bids to become a test site for the company's fiber-optic network, trying to catch Google's attention and show their enthusiasm.
"In selecting a city, our goal was to find a location where we could build efficiently, make an impact on the community and develop relationships with local government and community organizations," Milo Medin, Google's vice president of access services, wrote in a post on Google's official blog. "We've found this in Kansas City."
The company's deadline for city governments and citizens to express interest in attracting Google passed in March 2010. Many cities used stunts and gimmickry to get the company's attention and show interest in the experimental network.
Nearby Topeka informally renamed itself "Google, Kansas." Members of the group Think Big Topeka also organized a flash mob at a community meeting and a formation of fans spelling out "Google" on the ice during a RoadRunners hockey game.
"We are very excited that they selected Kansas City, Kan.," said Brendan Jensen, part of the leadership team for Think Big Topeka and a field engineer for the Alexandria, Va.-based biometrics company MorphoTrak, which has a presence in Topeka. "Of course we are discouraged that they didn't select Topeka, but the fact that they picked something in Kansas is a huge relief to us. That gives us just that much more incentive to go out and build one for Topeka."
A group in Baltimore had launched a website that used Google mapping to plot the location of more than 1,000 residents and give their reasons for wanting the service. Hundreds of groups on Facebook implored Google to come to their cities.
Google's new fiber-optic network comes amid growing worry among policy makers and public interest groups in Washington that broadband connections in the U.S. are far slower and more expensive than those available in many European and Asian countries, and that too many Americans still have no broadband access at all.
President Barack Obama recently pledged to expand high-speed wireless Internet access to 98 percent of Americans. The Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department are searching for more wireless spectrum - or airwaves - to make that possible. The FCC is also seeking to tap the federal program that subsidizes phone service in rural and poor communities to pay for broadband access.
For its part, Google has said it's not interested in dominating or even grabbing a sizable chunk of the broadband market. Instead, it is dipping into its $35 billion bank account to build an ultra-fast Internet network in hopes of prodding telecommunications and cable providers to upgrade their services in communities across the country.