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Prince William seeks to be lab for Google's speedy Internet

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 21, 2010; PW01

Prince William County will vie for a spot in a nationwide trial that Google plans to launch of "ultra high-speed" broadband Internet, county officials said Tuesday.

Google announced last month that it wants to build and test networks that could deliver Internet service 100 times as fast as that used by most Americans to determine whether it can join the broadband Internet market. The company is searching for communities to test the service, and Prince William wants to be one of them.

"You can't go wrong in investing in 21st-century technology," Prince William Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) said. "We have a very tech-savvy population in Prince William . . . and I hope the folks at Google will recognize the opportunity here."

Nohe, along with the rest of the Board of County Supervisors, heard a presentation Tuesday by the county's Office of Information Technology about how Prince William could become part of Google's quest to raise the Web's speed limit. County officials said Google has been fairly vague about its plan, so several details, including all the criteria to be selected, haven't been released. Costs to the county, if any, are also unknown. Some analysts have predicted some municipalities might pass if the project requires a sizable ongoing funding commitment.

"This is a great opportunity," said board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large). "If anyone is aware of this effort . . . or employed by Google and can help us in any way, let us know. This is going to be a community effort to lobby Google."

Google will accept proposals through March 26 from communities interested in the trial and will select participants this year. Google would pay for the construction and operation of the networks needed to send Internet service directly to homes at 1 gigabit per second and then charge consumers rates that would be "competitive" with other service providers, company officials said. The trials will include somewhat compact areas, with networks reaching between 50,000 and 500,000 people.

Comcast and Verizon are heavily invested in Prince William, and county officials said Google, too, could prosper. With its location just south of the Capital Beltway, Prince William is a booming county and the second most populous in Virginia. George Mason University's presence, an array of high-tech firms and the fact the median household income in Prince William is the 16th highest in America are also selling points that county officials plan to highlight in their proposal to Google.

"There is a demand for the service, and there would be a strong customer base here from Day One," said Nohe, who asked county staff members to look into the Google project after hearing from a constituent. "This would be a large investment and a huge undertaking for Google, but we know when Google rolls out a new product, they invest 110 percent in it."

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