Want a quick path to ensuring Berkeley’s position as a center for innovation? How about applying — and winning — the competition to be one of the test sites for Google’s plan to test ultra high-speed broadband networks. Here’s Google’s pitch:

We’re planning to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States. We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We plan to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.

Our goal is to experiment with new ways to help make Internet access better and faster for everyone. Here are some specific things that we have in mind:

  • Next generation apps: We want to see what developers and users can do with ultra high-speeds, whether it’s creating new bandwidth-intensive “killer apps” and services, or other uses we can’t yet imagine.
  • New deployment techniques: We’ll test new ways to build fiber networks, and to help inform and support deployments elsewhere, we’ll share key lessons learned with the world.
  • Openness and choice: We’ll operate an “open access” network, giving users the choice of multiple service providers. And consistent with our past advocacy, we’ll manage our network in an open, non-discriminatory and transparent way.

Like our WiFi network in Mountain View, the purpose of this project is to experiment and learn. Network providers are making real progress to expand and improve high-speed Internet access, but there’s still more to be done. We don’t think we have all the answers – but through our trial, we hope to make a meaningful contribution to the shared goal of delivering faster and better Internet for everyone.

As a first step, today we’re putting out a request for information (RFI) to help identify interested communities. We welcome responses from local government, as well as members of the public.

The city has until March 26 to get a great application together. There’s an excellent assessment of Google’s announcement at GigaOm.

I just tested the speed of my broadband connection, using Comcast Cable. I get 5 megabits per second down and 3 up. One gigabit per second would provide 200 times that speed down and over 300 times up. Wouldn’t that be wonderful for Berkeley?

Lance Knobel

Lance Knobel (co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine in Britain,...

Join the Conversation


  1. Alan Tobey is right on the mark in terms of how the wireless would improve lives, e.g. “what such connectivity would do in ordinary neighborhoods where dialup AOL could still be the name of the game.”

    The issue is, in Berkeley, what slows down good ideas like this one is the abundance of crazies who would rather obsess forever on radiation poisoning and wear tin foil hats than think about ways to make Berkeley be a better city with more access to information for ALL of its residents, resulting in better education, jobs, attractiveness to green business, etc.

  2. Let’s also be careful to know/decide in advance where such a test might actually be run within Berkeley — before we choose to apply.

    A couple or three years ago there was interest in trying out a free municipal Wi-Fi service. But the test was to run only in Downtown and on Fourth Street — where most people already had adequate fixed/mobile connectivity. I thought it would make much more sense as a useful test for the City to install this in an underserved neighborhood, but I never heard any reaction (and the test never ran).

    So this time let’s raise the same question: Would we only test how to upgrade ourselves and our fellow geeks to uber-geekdom, or might we see what such connectivity would do in ordinary neighborhoods where dialup AOL could still be the name of the game?

  3. TN: Thanks.

    We ought to ask how it will be that Google’s ownership won’t *also* wind up as a financial disaster. What assurance have we that Google’s network is likely to remain standing in 10, 20, or 50 years? What costs will it impose upon the City regarding the maintenance of parallel infrastructure? What is the cost of the “make-ready” work? What is the administrative cost of applying and overseeing the project? What assurances have we have universal access (analogous to “life line” service for telephony)? If we are to accept and then rely upon this infrastructure for critical governmental and private uses, what assurance have we of its timely and effective maintenance and repair (and how far into the future are those assurances credible)? How many hours of City staff time should go into even so much as answering the tricky legal and engineering questions posed by their “RFI”?

    I would like cheap, very fast broad-band too. I would also like a pony. But all we have here from Google is an invitation to speculate with taxpayer money on a dubious proposition.

    The discussion may very well be moot, however. Berkeley’s topology, demographics, earthquake vulnerability, and existing infrastructure are likely to make us an unattractive test location. Among the many reasons it would be bad for staff to waste time applying is the improbability that a Berkeley bid would be accepted. Indeed, with just shy of 50K households, Google would need to commit nearly all of their minimum-acceptable study size to Berkeley.

    An application for some *neighborhood* within Berkeley might stand a better chance if such a neighborhood can come to terms with the City. Of course, I mean some *other* neighborhood than mine: NIMBY.

  4. I can understand Tom Lord’s concern regarding control over the network.

    The problem is that public ownership and operation of fiber networks has not worked out well in the Bay Area. The cities of Alameda and Palo Alto both unsuccessfully operated their own networks. And both ended up as financial disasters for the cities.

    I can see the logic of treating the network as a public regulated utility, though a public utility would want monopoly rights in return for limited but more certain revenues. The problem is that Comcast already has a network in place and AT&T is wiring Berkeley for uVerse now. Both of these services are unregulated. It wouldn’t make any sense for a regulated provider to try to compete with unregulated ones.

    I think that Google would be a plus for Berkeley as long as it is a competitor to the other providers who are already here. I’d have problems too with Google as a monopoly.

  5. Having worked at Google and experienced the wonder of this internet (which is free to all Mountain View residents, btw), I have to say that I am all for it! Especially if the costs go down. Comcast has the monopoly on this market in our area, as far as I’ve seen, and costs are just WAY too high, IMO.

  6. Lance, please look before you leap!

    Fiber to homes is a great idea. A privatized fiber network to homes is a disaster. Just like power, plain old telephone service, water, and sewerage this kind of infrastructure really ought to be a public utility – ideally owned by local and state governments but at the very least highly regulated and with bandwidth on the cables leased to a competitive marketplace of service providers at roughly cost. Google is Big Brother enough, already. We should think twice before helping them double down on that.

  7. Most broadband connections are what is called asymmetric, which means you get different speeds downloading data and uploading data. So on the Comcast Cable broadband that I measured, I get 5 Mbs when I download data (like looking at Web pages, or downloading an mp3 from iTunes) and 3 Mbs when I upload data, like sending a file through email or uploading a new photo to Berkeleyside. The shorthand for that is down and up.