County will compete for free high-speed network
Wichita has offered to change its name. Duluth is offering up the names of its first-born children. All Dakota County has to offer is eager partners, cooperative governments and a tech-savvy population that could mean good business.
Bill Coleman believes that's enough to make Dakota County the "only obvious choice" for a high-speed fiber optic data network that Internet giant Google has offered to build free of charge somewhere in the United States.
Coleman is executive director of Dakota Future, a countywide group formed in 2008 to promote economic development countywide. The group began a push last year to promote the development of a high-speed network in the county. Now it's leading the effort to win Google's prize.
"I think we have a great demographic," Coleman said. "People are tech savvy and people can afford a high-quality broadband connection. I think we have a lot of two-income families who would see great benefit in maybe being able to work from home."
Coleman sees a lot of potential benefit in the installation of the new network. He talks about doctors using the high-speed Internet connection to consult with patients online rather than in the office or students taking classes from home with the benefit of full video live from the classroom. And he believes the network would be a draw for businesses. He said he's already heard from Twin Cities businesses that have said they'd likely move to Dakota County if the high-speed network became available.
"I think people do see that as a good community asset," Coleman said.
There will be plenty of competition. Wichita got a lot of attention for offering to rename itself Google, Kan. Duluth, in addition to an offer to rename its first-born children Google, is reportedly bringing in a big-name director to create videos for its campaign. Coleman doesn't expect to ask residents to start thinking of Google County as their home, but he expects to have fun with the application, which is due March 26.
"We'll find out what kind of silliness we can bring to the picture," he said. "I think creativity and enthusiasm will count in their decision-making process, but I also think we have a very good story to tell."
For Coleman, that story includes cities willing to jump on board -- 10 Dakota County cities have offered $500 each to prepare the application, and the county's community development agency will match that amount -- enthusiastic partners and a population willing to pay for high-speed Internet access that Google says will be as much as 100 times faster than what most people have now.
Google has offered to build the network as a kind of laboratory to test new technologies, but it also plans to open the network to others who want to use it. That could mean increased competition among telecommunication providers and a number of other new opportunities.
"We've already had at least one company commit to coming in and making use of that network if Google came in and provided it," Coleman said.
If the network reaches countywide it could give companies instant access to a large audience.
Dakota Future plans to submit an application on behalf of the entire county, but even if Google selects the county it could choose to install its network in only part of the county. Coleman expects at least some Dakota County cities to submit their own applications, too.
Dakota Future is reaching out to residents, too. It is working on a web page at dakotafuturefiber.com and has launched a Facebook page for the Dakota Future Fiber effort to ask residents how they would use high-speed Internet.
Whatever happens next, Coleman is happy to be talking about high-speed networks.
"To me it's exciting on a number of levels," Coleman said. "It's really a win-win initiative. If we get Google to come to Dakota County it's fabulous. If they don't come, I think it's going to get people to think more about tech-based development."