Faster Internet service is a goal in itself, and also a symbol of where Greensboro needs to go and how we might get there.
My newspaper column is about the changes the Google campaign is bringing to GSO, and the need to maintain momentum for change whether or not we land the project.
An early deadline meant Guilford County commissioner Kirk Perkins didn't get due credit for his role in making that board's resolution happen.
Also, Roch goes old media with a column on the benefits of broader broadband.
Google helps, win or lose
News & Record
The Great Google Sweepstakes of 2010 could bring good things to Greensboro, even if the city is not chosen as a test market for super-high-speed Internet service.
If we do make the cut, well, great. A huge infrastructure investment by one of the world's most-admired companies would bring all kinds of benefits, making us a more attractive place to live, do business, and go to school -- attributes that would be magnified by national media attention for years to come. As someone who has telecommuted to a job in New York for more than a decade, writing and editing articles about business, culture and technology, I can't think of a more exciting opportunity for my hometown.
But winning the bake-off is a long shot, even though Greensboro may be more appealing to Google than you might think (Jack Whitley, a technology executive with Replacements Ltd. who is advising city staff as it answers Google's request for information, created a partial list of our strengths in a document prepared for the official application team; you can read some of his ideas here).
We're competing against dozens of cities from across the country, and many of the factors that will inform Google's decision are beyond our control. No matter how detailed the city's response, no matter the volume and quality of the public response, we could be undone by geography, demographics or other things we can't change.
What's important to understand is that the effort itself matters -- a lot. The idea of Greensboro being united behind anything is exciting, and this initiative has brought people and institutions together in a way rarely seen around here. Neither the good vibes nor the intensive focus on 21st century economic development should end with the competition. Win or lose, we have a chance to remix our greatest hits and to try again on some misses, to become a new Gate City with a vibrant creative culture and some world-class infrastructure.
You can already sense an impact on the political scene, where attitudes toward the Google project offer an indication of cluefulness. City Council members, including Danny Thompson, Nancy Vaughan, Robbie Perkins and Zack Matheny, were quick to grasp the value of this effort and the need for coordinated action. Mayor Bill Knight, meanwhile, has been vaguely positive but curiously detached, even as his peers in other cities have helped lead the charge.
The first county commissioner to respond to my e-mail about supporting the Google project was Republican Linda Shaw, who said she would reach out across party and jurisdictional lines to find ways to pitch in.
It's also been interesting to watch traditional power centers -- groups like Action Greensboro and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as elected officials and city staff -- interact with unruly bloggers and community activists. The suits need the bloggers to help them navigate the real-time, on-the-fly environment created by Google's schedule, while the Web-heads need the business community to lend influence, ideas and resources to the project. Some messages have been lost in translation -- my own sarcastic online voice has not always made for easy communication with the politicians and power-brokers -- but we're learning from each other, and maybe we'll come away from this with a more collaborative, transparent civic culture that can be applied to other projects.
You can see the possibilities in the way the city has incorporated tools designed by bloggers Roch Smith Jr. and Greensboro is Talking's The Shu Ross Myers into its official Google Web site, and the quick response by the city and the Greensboro Partnership to suggestions on publicizing the Facebook page managed by volunteer Jay Ovittore and the official Google form that anyone can use to nominate Greensboro.
So what happens if Google passes us by? If we just hang our heads and talk about the one that got away, not much. But if we work to maintain the coalition that's formed around this project, we might make headway with other Internet service providers who are looking to compete in the broadband arena, and influence the regulators in Raleigh who seem more interested in cable-company cash than consumer wants and needs. Maybe Action Greensboro could rekindle its long-dormant interest in a public wireless network, this time with broad-based support. Faster Internet service is a goal in itself, and also a symbol of where Greensboro needs to go and how we might get there.
© News & Record 2010