Lansing area teams up to bring Google fiber-optic Internet

From operating a high-tech start-up company to downloading massive movie and music files, the Lansing region soon could be a community IT experiment for a sophisticated fiber-optic Internet service.

Google is receiving submissions from city officials and citizens from across the country until March 26 for test communities between 50,000 and 500,000 people for a fiber-optic Internet service, and East Lansing, Lansing, Delta Township and Meridian Township — and possibly Lansing Township — will work together on an application for the region.

Such a project normally would cost millions of dollars and improve Internet speeds to more than one gigabit per second — about 100 times faster than the standard connection.

It is difficult to explain what is possible with such technology, as it exists in just a handful of communities, said Alan McCarrick, information systems manager for the city of East Lansing.

“That’s the whole point of the reason they’re doing this,” he said. “Nobody knows what this would enable. It opens the door to things we haven’t even thought of yet.”

Google did not return phone calls or e-mails Tuesday.

Tremaine Phillips, a member of Accelerate Lansing, a group that aims to revitalize and enrich the Lansing region, said the initiative eventually might include more of the Mid-Michigan region, which totals nearly 500,000 people. Providing the unique Internet infrastructure would be advantageous for Mid-Michigan and incentivize business location in the area, which could help provide economic development for more rural areas as well as Lansing and East Lansing.

Aside from fitting the intended size of the project, East Lansing also is in a potentially good position because Google co-founder and president Larry Page was raised in East Lansing, attended East Lansing High School and his parents were MSU professors, Phillips said.

Phillips said a Facebook group supporting the project has more than 1,200 members and that many posting on the message board have indicated such an infrastructure improvement would entice graduates to stay in East Lansing. He said the area’s current Internet capabilities prevent growth and possibilities for businesses, but a fiber-optic network could help retain young professionals and spur business development.

“That’s huge,” he said. “This is the real special thing with Lansing. I believe if we get this opportunity there would be more entrepreneurship and people thinking about this idea.”

Tim Dempsey, East Lansing’s planning and community development director, said Internet service is becoming as essential a utility for businesses as water, electricity and heat.

The demand was so great for increased Internet capability for the 14 start-up technology firms at the Technology Innovation Center, or TIC, 325 E. Grand River Ave., that the city brought fiber-optic technology to the location.

If East Lansing were to land the Google project, he said the city would be a coveted destination and its budding technological industry could continue to expand.

Rory Neuner, also a member of Accelerate Lansing who is working closely with the project, said Lansing, East Lansing, Delta Township and Meridian Township representatives met with the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, or LEAP, on Tuesday to discuss a game plan for the project.

Whether MSU would join the fray is unknown, as the university already has its own wireless Internet throughout campus. But Neuner said Google’s initiative is designed to pull all aspects of the community into the currently unexplored world of communitywide fiber-optic Internet service — and it would be hard for MSU to resist.

“Any kind of substantial increase in broadband service in the surrounding community would push MSU to become a part of that or improve the services they already have,” Neuner said. “This is Google’s goal, I think. Unless somebody steps up and makes the massive investment to improve broadband speeds, we’re going to fumble along here.”

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