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San Luis Obispo applies to be Google fiber-optic trial city

The city of San Luis Obispo is submitting its application today to become a trial city for Google’s upcoming fiber-optic experiment.

Hundreds of San Luis Obispo residents have rallied publicly and thousands declared support to make the city a trial for the search-engine giant’s next technological experiment.

If San Luis Obispo is chosen as one of Google’s trial locations, ultra-high-speed broadband networks would be set up, allowing residents to access the Internet more than 100 times faster than they can now, according to Google.

San Luis Obispo is not alone in its quest: Hundreds of cities nationwide are vying to be selected, and publicity stunts by civic leaders have captured the interest of others.

The mayor of Topeka, Kan., issued a proclamation renaming the city “Google” for the month of March. Other city leaders swam with sharks and dipped into icy lakes to garner attention.

Google is largely mum on details but has said that it plans to build the broadband network for 50,000 to 500,000 customers in one or more cities.

The deadline to apply is Friday. No one is sure what exactly is needed to capture Google’s attention, but some San Luis Obispo technology leaders say the city has a good chance.

“Our community is isolated from metropolitan areas, and staying in business here takes work and effort,” said Tim Williams, CEO of Digital West Networks. “People here are entrepreneurial and innovative — they would use the opportunity to its fullest potential.”

Williams noted that several innovative technologies originated in San Luis Obispo over the past two decades, including Zing, which enabled the first streaming of audio files.

The increased broadband would not only assist local businesses to be more efficient, but also help brand San Luis Obispo as a place to locate green, high-tech, well-paying businesses, he said. One disadvantage is that Google may be looking for a more impoverished rural area.

“They might think it would have a different impact someplace like that because we already have a pretty educated and vibrant small-town economy,” he said. “The question is, ‘Would a town like that be able to use it to the capacity we would?’ ”

Amy Kardel, co-founder of Clever Ducks, a computer network consulting business, helped organize a rally earlier this month to raise awareness about the “Bring Fiber to San Luis Obispo” campaign.

The city’s size, rural nature, and strong relationship with Cal Poly are to its advantage, she said.

“We are not mama bear or papa bear — we are just right,” said Kardel, adding that San Luis Obispo, given its rural nature, represents most of America.

Working against the city, she said, is the fact that California is more heavily regulated than other places in construction and telecommunication guidelines.

“But that is something we can’t change — it is just the way it is,” Kardel said.

The advantages of Google’s offer go beyond the high-speed broadband, Williams said.

“If San Luis Obispo is chosen by Google, it would put us on the map with the rest of the world who has been watching this Google buzz happen,” he said.

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