Baltimore Google Czar: So Google Fiber Didn’t Pick Us; Here's ‘Plan B’

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By Tom Loveland

When Dave Troy, Greater Baltimore Committee CEO Don Fry, and I stepped out of Baltimore Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s office last year, minutes after she submitted Baltimore’s application for Google Fiber, it struck me that Google might come for a site visit, and we needed to prepare for it.

Then it hit me that Google might never come. Simply hoping it would – betting our city’s future civic and economic competitiveness on Google’s “lottery” – would be irresponsible. Hoping Google selects your city is not a strategy.

We needed to take responsibility for our own fiber future, and thus began working on “Plan B”.

I’m glad we did.

One year and a week after 1,100 communities submitted applications for Google Fiber, Google announced the winner. The first to benefit from Google ultra high-speed broadband will not be Baltimore.

But I’m here to report that Charm City’s fiber future looks brighter than most among those that Google passed over this week.

Last September, Maryland won $115M in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to build the One Maryland Broadband Network. Of that, about $72 million is going to Howard County, which will take the lead in connecting public institutions and private businesses in 10 Central Maryland counties and cities, including Baltimore, Annapolis, and Prince George's. That part of the project is moving forward under the leadership of Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

One Maryland Broadband will connect the anchor institutions in each Maryland county – and Baltimore City – via a 10 Gbps fiber network.

That’s TEN times FASTER than the already “supersonic” speed of Google Fiber. And One Maryland Broadband is not a “maybe” thing. It really is coming to Baltimore. The entire network will be complete before the end of 2013.

But there is a difference: Google will deploy 1 Gbps fiber to tens of thousands of homes. One Maryland Broadband, on the other hand, will connect “only” 1,006 community institutions across the state. It’s not coming to Baltimore’s homes or offices out-of-the-box.

On the other hand, One Maryland Broadband brings “extra” fiber optic cable that City Hall will be able to lease or assign to expand the reach and quality of broadband access across our neighborhoods. This gives us something to work with! And a number of us are on it.

It is a major focus for Rico Singleton, Baltimore’s CIO, and for Baltimore’s Broadband Task Force, which I co-chair with Fry. And Deputy Mayor Chris Thomaskutty convened Baltimore’s first CitiStat Broadband meetings to drive a city-wide fiber strategy.

We are studying how best to leverage this new ultra high speed data pipe and Baltimore’s other broadband assets for the greatest good. Can we connect to more institutions? Can we deploy deeper into the community? Can we reach door fronts and roof tops?

Also keep in mind that Google likely will deploy Google Fiber to additional communities down the road.

Google’s official blog states, “We’ll also be looking closely at ways to bring ultra high-speed Internet to other cities across the country.” And Google co-founder Sergey Brin said, “That’s why we’re rolling out to communities, starting with Kansas City….” [Note the plural, “communities”, and “starting with….”] Baltimore certainly has a shot of winning Google Fiber in a future round.

Yes, we wish Google had selected Charm City for its initial deployment. But we have plenty to be grateful for, and send our best to Kansas City. Now it’s time to get to work!

Tom Loveland is CEO of Mind Over Machines, a Maryland-based consulting and technology services firm that imagines, engineers, and implements game-changing information systems for organizations seeking a competitive edge. In 2010, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appointed Loveland as Baltimore's volunteer "Google Czar." Loveland is also a co-founder of Center Maryland.
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