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Posted on Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 4:02 p.m.

City officials hope to make Ann Arbor pilot city for new Google initiative

By Ryan J. Stanton

Mayor John Hieftje says city officials are working with the University of Michigan on a proposal to make Ann Arbor one of the first communities in the nation to test Google's newly announced "Fiber for Communities" initiative.

Ann Arbor and U-M officials are partnering with other key stakeholders on a proposal to be submitted to Google by March 26. City officials hope to convince Google to bring its plans for a new ultra-high speed broadband network to Ann Arbor.


Tom Crawford, the city's CFO, gives a report to the City Council Monday night. He was joined by IT director Dan Rainey.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Google recently put out a request for information to communities all across the country. It plans to use the information it receives to determine where to build its new fiber network.

"Google is planning to launch an experiment that we hope will make Internet access better and faster for everyone," reads the announcement from Google. "We plan to test ultra-high speed broadband networks in one or more trial locations across the country. Our networks will deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today, over 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We'll offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people."

Google officials say more details will be distributed in the coming weeks.

Hieftje said he was impressed with the fact that city officials and staff at the university came together immediately to work on a proposal to submit to Google.

Tom Crawford, the city's chief financial officer, gave an update to the Ann Arbor City Council on those efforts Monday night.

"This is a pretty significant event for Google," Crawford said. "It allows them to have a chip in the game of the public policy issue around broadband and how it's installed in the United States and the deployment of it. It's a very exciting opportunity for any community who gets it. Many people consider this to be an economic development incentive for whichever community gets it. In fact there are a number of communities that are installing this in their communities on their own."

Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, offered the following comments in an e-mail to

"We are confident that our response will demonstrate that Ann Arbor would be a terrific location for Google to conduct this exciting experiment. All parties understand what a tremendous benefit FTTH (fiber-to-the-home) could provide to Ann Arbor and Michigan and are committed to doing everything we can to make it a reality. We will also conduct broad-based outreach to build and demonstrate community support and excitement for the project. Public support is an important criterion for Google as it determines which communities will proceed to the next round."

University of Michigan President Emeritus James Duderstadt is expected to be part of the team heading up the response. Duderstadt was president during the buildout of the NSFNET network, a high-speed national network funded by the National Science Foundation. It launched in 1988 and led directly to the commercialization of the Internet in the early 1990s.

Network engineer Jared Mauch has analyzed the cost of a fiber to the home buildout, using best available commercial technology. His analysis suggests a total buildout cost of about $100 million to put municipal fiber down all 1,647 miles of public roads in Washtenaw County, plus another $1,000 per property to put the fiber online. Mauch has been managing Internet networks since 1993, starting with the local Arbornet network and now with responsibilities for global networks.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.


Basic Bob

Sun, Feb 28, 2010 : 9:56 p.m.

How is Comcast any more evil than AT&T? Seems to me the govt broke up AT&T and since then they are putting the empire back together a piece at a time. Only this time the head office is in Texas instead of New Jersey. In fact the new AT&T offers many services unimaginable a few years ago. Neither is as evil as Micro$oft or Disney.

Janelle Baranowski

Wed, Feb 24, 2010 : 9:08 a.m.

If the city and county do not have to contribute any money for the infrastructure, which seems to be the case, I see no problem with this. Oh, and no free parking for the workers either.


Wed, Feb 24, 2010 : 7:56 a.m.

Geez people, why is everyone so scared of Google. Ya'll already have Comcast monitoring everything you do...


Wed, Feb 24, 2010 : 7:48 a.m.

Oh Google, please, please build the new network in A2. *fingers crossed* I did a happy dance when I got to jettison Comcast for ATT (which is far less craptastic/evil) but a bit of competition never hurts innovation or price for the consumer :O)


Wed, Feb 24, 2010 : 12:37 a.m.

Good grief. There are far more people scanning Internet traffic than just our government. Russian mafia, ChiCom dissident hunters and industrial espionage agents, bored sysadmins, bored students, untold millions of infected Windows PCs... honestly, that's what encryption is for. It has always been assumed that unencrypted Internet traffic has all the privacy of a postcard. Our government is likely the least competent and least interested in you of all the available threats. If you have a problem with what our government does, vote accordingly. Building this network doesn't stop work on any other city infrastructure projects. Google is funding it. All they want is some cooperation, not that Ann Arbor is known for being difficult for private developers to work with or anything. If this project works out the way I think that it will its secondary effects will generate quite a bit of tax revenue. If not, Google is the only one taking the risk. What will people do with gigabit class Internet? THAT'S WHAT GOOGLE WANTS TO FIND OUT! Ann Arbor, with the University of Michigan and a surprising number of nerds who haven't fled the state yet (vote Snyder!), would make an ideal test bed for such a network. Personally I'm hoping that someone creates the Metaverse. Maybe it'll only be good for mundane things like HD-class IPTV over IPv6 multicast. I want to find out. If the control freaks in this town screw this up then I'm going to look at real estate wherever the network does get built. Enjoy what the PHBs running AT&T sell you and whatever Comcast provides that's just good enough to compete with them. If either of those two incumbents were remotely competent then Google wouldn't need to attempt this.


Wed, Feb 24, 2010 : 12:18 a.m.

About 15 years ago a spokesman for Governor Engler spoke in Ann Arbor about the need to diversify the state away from the auto industry. I suggested that they run fiber optic cable to all homes and businesses for the upcoming internet boom, giving Michigan a leg up on competition from other states and countries. NAFTA had just been passed and it was clear that manufacturing jobs were going away. Needless to say, we got no fiber optics and no diversification and we are now suffering for it. High speed internet is no different than railroads, The Soo Locks, highways, and electricity. As much as I hate big government, this is one area where big government would have been a great idea. Wireless internet (WiMax, WiFi, cellular) is far too limited in bandwidth for serious business and even home use. A typical iPhone SDK is 4GB, with updates coming every week or two. ("Unlimited" wireless is usually capped at 5GB/month). Michigan residents pay $150/month to Comcast for cable tv, internet, and phone service. That money could easily pay for a fiber optic network given the economies of scale involved in wiring the entire state.

Ryan Munson

Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 10:39 p.m.

I'm not exactly a fan of Comcast, but do people realize they are going to increase speeds over time in the near future? Coax still has a way to go, but fiber is obviously faster.

Alan M Robertson

Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 10:30 p.m.

I sure hope that Ann Arbor doesn't lose sight of the basics. Fix the Stadium bridge before worrying about competing with Comcast!

Jared Mauch

Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 8:44 p.m.

Speaking for myself... I would not establish a business in a place without a Road, Electricty or Water these days. The same is really true about Internet access. Giving that context... The cost of building the fiber is around $100 million. The cost of putting traffic on it varies depending on the technology used. To light it at gigabit (1000Mb/s) is $29k per 48 users. This was *NOT* volume pricing. This puts the cost around $605 per subscriber. This is something you can plug into a business model to determine if you charge $50/month how long will it take to recoup the equipment costs. This is also why companies want you to agree to a 1 year contract. This allows them to recoup the cost of the equipment during the life of you as a customer. The remainder $400 is to cover the last feet of building to your house, the splicing of the fiber (the fancy fusion splicers cost ~70k). This is something that can be done for reasonable costs per home. I'm excited about the prospects of the COUNTY going after google. The city is uninteresting to me, the residents are well covered. The majority of the people in the city can already get DSL or a cable modem. If you can build out the county for $100 million, what did the "wireless washtenaw" money go to? The wireless stuff does not work well through trees (good thing we don't have many of those in the county), so we would have been better off spending the money on building 15+ year infrastructure. Regarding the city of Palo Alto, they were a bit before their time. The cost of fiber and equipment to terminate and "light" it has come down in recent years. It's quite cost effective now.


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 7:33 p.m.

And Google's evolution into another Big Media behemoth continues...How much control over content, information, and communication does one company need? Or - how much control over these things *should* one *huge publicly traded* company have? Sure it's awfully friendly and PC and it even employs local folks, but it sure looks to me like it's becoming the new generation of big, consolidated media...

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 7:24 p.m.

I believe, and somebody can correct me if I'm wrong, that Google is volunteering to take on the capital costs involved for the demonstration project and would then provide service using the new network at, as it states in its announcement, a "competitive price."


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 6:49 p.m.

OK Ryan, I'm confused. Are property owners being volunteered to pay an additional 1,000 to have access to this new internet service? I was all for it until I read that piece of the puzzle.


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 5:13 p.m.

YES! Sweet, sweet bandwidth. Watch the brain drain invert in spectacular fashion if this happens. Sign me up for the Don't Be Evil Empire!

Tom Joad

Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 4:58 p.m.

A pipe dream, an economic boondoggle. With today's advanced wifi and WifiMax available that can blanket a community, a 100 million dollar project at 1000 per property seems prohibitively expensive unless Obama is going to pay the entire bill. Fast networked connections mean little if the server isn't pumping out data at the theoretical limit, which they don't do. There is no need for a city having super high-speed fiber internet, not at that cost. Palo Alto, CA invested tens of millions in high speed fiber optic cables a decade ago and those cable sit UNDERGROUND, UNUSED, and not even connected. Investigate before open the city coffers.