When Google held a national competition four years ago to choose a city where the company would build its first super-fast fiber-optic network, communities across the country fell all over themselves trying to win the company’s attention.
Portlanders got into the act with videos lauding the city’s technological prowess, with stunts aiming to set world records and, most famously, with a beer – Hopworks’ Gigabit IPA – with a label decorated in Google’s signature color scheme.
When Google chose Kansas City, Portland looked like just another sad-sack loser among the 1,100 cities who sought – but didn’t get – the company’s attention.
Quietly, though, city officials kept talking to the company. They were trying to understand what Google might want and went about setting it in motion – establishing a broadband plan and beginning the process of cataloging what existing tools Google, or another company, might use to build a local network.
“Google’s approach is you need to do all these things to be broadband friendly. So we started down that path,” said Mary Beth Henry, director of Portland’s office for community technology.
That work paid off last August, when Google asked for a secret meeting with Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. Behind closed doors, in October, the city began working with Google on a broadband franchise agreement that would open the door for Google Fiber to expand its network to Portland.
This week, Google announced it wants to expand its Google Fiber network to Portland and five nearby suburbs, beginning service as early as next year as part of a major expansion of its network to as many as nine additional metro areas.
The news could validate more than a decade of work city leaders have put into attracting another communications company to the market, someone to compete with the local phone and cable franchises, now owned by CenturyLink and Comcast.
But Google isn’t making any promises. The company says it’s still evaluating Portland’s suitability.
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