Fresno and scores of other cities nationwide are clamoring to be named as testing grounds for Google's experimental ultra-fast Internet network -- yet they have only a vague notion of what that would mean.
Amid all the hype -- publicity stunts, YouTube videos, Facebook fan campaigns -- Google Inc. is playing hard to get. Especially when it comes to answers.
The Mountain View-based company says it wants to create a network in at least one city that apparently would put fiber-optic cables into every home and office. Google Fiber would be capable of moving data at 1 gigabit per second, many times faster than high-speed Internet service now offered by cable or telephone companies.
Beyond that, the Internet giant isn't revealing much. Among the questions: What's it looking for in a winning city? Would it mean tearing up streets to lay new cables? How much would residents pay for access? And what is the benefit if most Internet content must still travel through older, slower connections to reach the chosen city?
For that matter, what's in it for Google?
In an e-mail sent to The Bee, the company keeps it dreamy but vague: "In the same way that the transition from dial-up to broadband made possible the emergence of online video and countless other applications, ultra-high-speed bandwidth will lead to new innovations."
That's good enough for the would-be partners.
Even if they don't know exactly what Google Fiber is, the prospects are tantalizing enough for leaders in Fresno, Clovis, Merced and other cities to woo the company with gusto.
"The big picture is, this network will have significant benefits to doing business in this community," said Michael Lukens, a spokesman for Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin. "With that kind of speed, medical facilities and education will be able to use that very quickly, and it will allow businesses to do things more quickly."
Lukens said Swearengin has no plans to jump into a freezing lake -- a stunt one Minnesota mayor used in his city's video bid to Google -- to promote her city's Google Fiber effort. But she is one of the prominent local advocates who has posted on Facebook a photo of herself holding a sign proclaiming, "I want my Google Fiber."
Some Internet experts are close to snickering.
"Google must be having enormous amounts of fun with what people are doing to get this network that might not even get built," said David McClure, president and CEO of the Virginia-based U.S. Internet Industry Association, a trade group for online commerce and connectivity.
There is "a lot of misunderstanding about what [Google Fiber] is and where it's going to take us," McClure said. "It's not like if Fresno gets this, everyone there gets a 1 gigabit-per-second connection that will immediately bring them everything faster."
That's because the superfast speeds would likely be realized only within the confines of the network itself. For content that resides on servers outside that fiber network, slower parts of the route between the point of origin and the consumer could still be a bottleneck.
McClure said Google is betting that an ultra-high-speed network will spur the creation of "super-applications" -- and demonstrate the economic viability of such efforts for other Internet and communication companies to pick up the ball.
"If they can build a test bed, it will encourage the development and testing of higher-speed applications to prove their validity," McClure said. "Google wants this to provide a financial justification for the rest of the industry."