Click photo to enlarge
FARMINGTON — Google has chosen Kansas City, Kan., as the recipient of a new high-speed broadband network, a decision that leaves Farmington and more than 1,000 other cities that applied for the program on the outside looking in.

Local civic and business leaders made an aggressive bid for Google's "Think Big with a Gig" program, which invited cities to apply for the privilege of hosting an experimental high-speed Internet network.

"I wasn't surprised to learn that our community was not selected," Mayor Tommy Roberts said. "It was a long shot, as it was for every community that applied."

City officials and members of Farmington's task force that tried to attract Google are moving ahead on other fronts.

The city of Farmington is in discussions with private Internet providers to connect homes and businesses with approximately 80 miles of city-owned fiber-optic cable that stretches from Waterflow in the west to just east of Blanco.

"We've got just a tremendous amount of bandwidth available," state Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, said. "All we have to do is get it deployed. And that's the difficult part."

The fiber was strung by the Farmington Electric Utility System, the city-owned electric utility.

Bob Campbell, assistant city manager, called the Google contest "an important exercise that brought the community together."

"We can now move forward and get similar-speed Internet through a cooperative with private businesses," he said.


Advertisement

"I think that public-private partnership is the way to go."

The city is willing to lease its fiber-optic network, Roberts said.

"The city's position is that we're ready to move forward and make available our fiber-optic infrastructure to Internet providers who want to deliver that service and complete the last mile," he said.

The city has reached out to major local Internet providers such as Advantas Internet Solutions, Brainstorm Internet, Comcast, FastTrack Communications and Qwest.

Russ Elliott, president of Brainstorm, said Farmington and surrounding areas such as Aztec and Bloomfield already have the potential for very high-speed Internet.

"Brainstorm currently has gigabit capacity into the market," he said. "The infrastructure is there, the capacity is there. Now it's just a matter of getting it distributed to the folks that want it and need it. Usually these models work with the businesses stepping up."

Often, businesses effectively subsidize high-speed Internet distribution, with residences picking up connectivity later.

"The sticking point has been and continues to be this public-private thing," Elliott said. "We've got public infrastructure and private businesses. It's a gray area as to how to allow that to occur."

Jim Davis, owner of Advantas, said he is skeptical that private Internet service providers will build widespread access from Farmington's fiber-optic network.

"It's quite expensive to run fiber even for a mile," he said. "If something like that happens, it's going to be in a particular location, maybe a new residential area."

Downtown and other especially dense areas also are likely targets, he said.

In announcing Kansas City, Kan., as the winner of its contest Wednesday, Google praised civic leaders there.

"In Kansas City, Kan., we were absolutely blown away by the leadership, the mayor, the city staff, the utility as well," said Kevin Lo, general manager of Google Access.

Google will work with the Kauffman Foundation, KCNext and the University of Kansas Medical Center to develop the gigabit system. The company plans to offer gigabit service beginning in 2012, pending approval by the city's Board of Commissioners.

Farmington's effort included a well-publicized YouTube video. At a Chamber of Commerce banquet in December, T. Greg Merrion, president of Merrion Oil and Gas and a task force member, gathered the attendees together to take a photo to lobby Google. Merrion wore glasses that spelled "Google."

Although Farmington was not the first community chosen by Google, the company indicated it may bring high-speed fiber to more locations.

"We're so thrilled by the interest we've generated. Today is the start, not the end (of) the project," Google said on its official blog. "And over the coming months, we'll be talking to other interested cities about the possibility of us bringing ultra high-speed broadband to their communities."

Chuck Slothower: cslothower@daily-times.com