Asheville mobilizes to woo Google

"We have hundreds of people involved; we need thousands of people involved," Asheville City Council member Gordon Smith told Xpress minutes before he addressed about 30 people gathered on March 4 to brainstorm ways to persuade Google to install one of its proposed superfast fiber-optic networks in Asheville.

"It's not our job to become what Google wants: It's our job to explain who we are to Google," Smith told the crowd.

The company plans to run fiber-optic cable to homes and businesses in at least one American city with a population between 50,000 and 500,000. The cable will deliver Internet access 100 times faster than the current average.

The company is accepting both individual and municipal applications. Smith is helping head up the city's end, along with Ben Teague of the Economic Development Coalition and Hunter Goosmann of ERC Broadband.

"Google is good for Asheville because our corporate guys need it: Think of health care, think of climate visualization, think of how they could innovate if they had this," said Teague.

But for the effort to succeed, said Smith, the company also needs to receive a lot of high-quality applications from individuals telling what they'd do with the new tool. "That's going to be different for each of you. Here's where you get to dream big," he said.

The competition is fierce. Topeka, Kan., changed its name to Google for the month of March, and "Greensboro is considering changing its name to Googleboro," said Smith. "It's going to be mass insanity, and we get to be a part of it! We're good at insanity in this town."

Such a network would also make Asheville a hub for tech businesses, noted Goosmann.

"Having Google move to Asheville is the economic equivalent of a railroad coming here in 1823," asserted Paul Van Heden of BrainShrub.com.
Potential ideas include public video setups downtown and public laptops in local coffee shops to help individuals file applications.

Keoki Trask suggested "turning the city of Asheville into a data collector" by tapping unused computers for massive projects such as curing cancer or deciphering the human genome. "It would help them … and it would help humanity," he said.

A March 18 town hall meeting is planned for the Civic Center ballroom, and a Web site, googleavl.com, is already up.

The deadline for submitting applications is Friday, March 26.

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