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Fresno competes to be Google Fiber test market

A campaign to bring Google’s experimental high-speed Internet service to Fresno is gaining momentum with the help of tongue-in-cheek YouTube videos and Facebook page photos.

The city of Fresno is applying to be a test market for Google Fiber, a new broadband network the Internet giant says is 100 times faster than the average home Internet connection.

Cities across the country are vying for Google’s attention, including Clovis and Merced. The competition is stiff. Topeka, Kan., temporarily renamed itself Google, Kan., and Duluth, Minn., jokingly declared in a video that all first-born children would be named either Google Fiber or Googlette Fiber.

Fresno officials are working on their application. Part of that effort is a video that was filmed Saturday with Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and other community leaders.

As she stood in front of a camera in her office Saturday afternoon, Swearengin held a bright yellow sign that read, “I want my Google fiber!”

Community support is one of the criteria Google will look at, Swearengin said before filming a segment in her office.

“If we get our story across, we will be a top contender for this,” she said.

Swearengin wants Fresno residents to visit www.fiberfresno.com, where they can learn how to participate. The site includes a link to a page where residents can nominate their city with Google.

It also encourages Fresnans take a photo of themselves with a downloadable sign on the site that reads, “I want my Google Fiber,” and post it on the Google Fiber Fresno Facebook page at www.facebook.com/GoogleFiberFresno.

YouTube videos are also part of the campaign. The city is encouraging residents to make videos to upload to a Google Fiber Fresno YouTube group.

For less technologically inclined residents, the city will host an “outreach station” from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall, where the public can be filmed and city representatives will upload their videos.

Another session will be held in the Free Speech Area at California State University, Fresno, from 10 a.m to 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Google plans to test its Internet service in small number of communities across the country. The service area in selected communities is expected to include 50,000 to 500,000 people.

Google has not said when it plans to make its selections.

The company compares the shift to its 1-gigabit-per-second fiber-optic connection to the move from dial-up to broadband — and it cites all the technological innovation that accompanied it.

There will be a charge for Google Fiber. The company did not say how much, only that it will be “competitive.”

In addition to the lighthearted videos and photos pouring in, the city of Fresno is citing more serious reasons for bringing Google Fiber to town.

They include the city’s diversity, as well as the fact that Fresno frequently has been a test market for products, said Suzanne Bertz-Rosa, creative director of Bertz-Rosa Design, one of two firms the city hired to help with outreach to the public and other stakeholders. The other firm is Catalano Fenske & Associates.

Doctors rely on Internet teleconferencing to diagnose patients in rural areas, and the University of California at San Francisco uses it to teach students at its Fresno campus. But those teleconferences are severely limited by lack of available bandwidth, said Donna Hudson, director of academic research and technology of UCSF-Fresno.

Students can watch a lecture, but they can’t ask questions. And only one teleconference can happen at a time. That means students can’t watch complicated surgeries performed in San Francisco that are usually scheduled with little notice, she said.

Community Regional Medical Center also uses the Internet in its emergency rooms when a patient doesn’t speak English. The hospitals can connect to a person elsewhere who can translate, Hudson said. But only one such teleconference can happen at a time, meaning some emergency room situations go without an interpreter, she said.

Support for bringing Google Fiber to Fresno was growing on Twitter.com and Facebook before the city jumped on board. Residents have continued to lobby for Google Fiber since then.

One of the videos on the YouTube page was made by Katie Johnson of Fresno, who submitted a high-speed version of her commute home, shot from a hands-free camera on her dashboard. Among the words that appear on the screen during the video: “I want to ride the Google Fiber super highway.”

Johnson said Google Fiber would benefit Fresno residents in several ways, including making the average Fresnan’s Internet connection faster. She frequently downloads movies from Netflix and said she gets frustrated at how long it takes.

“I just think the more competition we have for Internet service, obviously the better it is for customers,” she said. “It’s greater opportunity for the residents of Fresno who can’t afford service.”

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