Now that Google has chosen Kansas City, Kan., as the site for its initial gigabit fiber network, where does that leave the other 1,000-plus municipalities that strutted their stuff for Google in hopes of being chosen? (See Google Picks KCK for Initial Fiber Build).
At least one city – Baltimore – is using its momentum from the Google contest to move forward with its goal of faster Internet for all.
Tom Loveland, a technology consultant and CEO of Mind Over Machines, helped municipal leaders in Baltimore try to catch Google’s attention, but the leaders also started thinking about what they could do on their own. "People started asking ‘What could the future be with ultra high-speed fiber?’" says Loveland. "We started a broadband task force; got the mayor behind it. We’re looking at what other (cities) do."
Unfortunately for Baltimore, it doesn’t have the best reputation, thanks in part to such TV shows as HBO’s "The Wire," which focuses on the drug and prostitution culture in some parts of the city. It’s also a good example of an urban area "underserved" by broadband. According to the National Broadband Map, wired broadband providers in Maryland’s largest city include Verizon, Comcast, Cavalier Telephone and Covad Communications. However, Verizon only offers DSL and not its fiber FiOS service, says Loveland, so Comcast doesn’t have much stiff competition.
Perhaps Baltimore’s fortunes are changing. According to Loveland, during the Google frenzy, a consortium of Maryland municipalities coincidentally won the third-largest broadband stimulus pot in the nation; $115 million was awarded to an alliance of all the counties in the state together with Baltimore to wire every county with 10-gigabit fiber. The project is slated to be completed by August 2012.
Baltimore just needs to figure out its last-mile connections. "We have the 10-gig coming to Baltimore City; how do we now grab this and spread it out?" asks Loveland. The city still is hopeful that Google will announce additional fiber builds after it gets rolling with Kansas City. It could be more appealing to Google to build those last-mile fiber connections from the 10-gig backbone at Baltimore’s doorstep.
In the meantime, the city is trialing some new wireless broadband technology as well. It has endorsed a trial with Go Long Wireless, a company that owns and manages 500 megahertz of bandwidth in the 12.2 GHz-12.7 GHz range in 47 different designated market areas (DMAs) throughout the country.
Go Long Wireless’ business model is to lease its spectrum and to provide a turnkey equipment solution for operators that want to offer wireless broadband. The technology reportedly can support a triple play of 500 HD and SD digital video channels, high-speed data as fast as 60 Mbps downstream and voice over IP (VoIP). With a tower placed on a tall building or hill, Go Long Wireless can provide line-of-site wireless broadband within a six-mile range, and the company already has situated one of its towers on the World Trade Center in downtown Baltimore.
"We’re using unlicensed for our return path," says Bruce Fox, managing member with Go Long Wireless, adding his company’s technology can use the unlicensed spectrum at 5.8 GHz or 3.65 GHz for its return path or it could use existing wired or cellular return paths.
"In Baltimore, we can reach close to two out of three homes just with the one tower at the World Trade Center," explains Fox, but he added the line-of-site technology is most ideal for geographic areas that are flat, with few trees and other obstructions.
As far as Baltimore itself, Fox says, "It’s an example of the digital divide. There are a lot of people who do not have inexpensive access to broadband. Fiber to the home is great, but it’s costly." As such, he touts his company’s technology as being an inexpensive last-mile solution.
"Google really got the conversation going," adds Loveland.