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Monday, September 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 71.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Madison holds pep rally to woo Google Fiber
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Mark Evans, tech director for Madison Metropolitan School District, scoops the first batch of a new Babcock Ice Cream flavor aimed at wooing Google's fiber network to Madison.
Mark Evans, tech director for Madison Metropolitan School District, scoops the first batch of a new Babcock Ice Cream flavor aimed at wooing Google's fiber network to Madison.
Credit:Nick Penzenstadler

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has said Madison does not need cheap gimmicks to attract the global tech goliath Google to install a new experimental high-speed Internet system. That idea gave way Thursday at a techy pep rally at Olbrich Gardens, with the introduction of a new Babcock Ice Cream flavor to score some brownie points with Google.

"It might be seen as a silly stunt, but I think it's a good stunt," Ald. Mark Clear said referring to the ice cream effort. The new flavor is still experimental but included granola (get it? high fiber?) and Google colored m&m's (blue, red, yellow and green, like the company logo).

Google is courting tech-savvy cities with populations between 50,000 and 500,000.

If Google chooses Madison, it plans to string ultra-high speed broadband networks that could provide Internet speeds 100 times faster than most connections in the city.

Clear said the gimmicks already underway by dozens of other cities across the nation need to be matched with information gathering to add meat behind the application process.

"It's first about the business of providing this network, then about the implementation," Clear said. "They want a place they can construct the network quickly and efficiently."

Clear added Google also wants to see "the entire package," or a community that could harness the power of the faster speeds in all facets of life.

At Thursday's meeting, community members tossed around ideas like streaming videos in city parks and enhancing the police department's digital crime fighting techniques.

Some have expressed concerns that Google's system may crowd out competitors, but Google has said it will open up the network to competitors like Charter or TDS to sync-up.

"They won't be Oprah giving away Pontiacs, there will be costs associated with it," Clear said. "They don't want to become a national [Internet service provider], cable TV or telephone service. But it's not giving away free Internet."

Representatives from madfiber.net were on hand to discuss the grassroots movement they are hoping to foster through social networking.

"What would you do with this that would make it unique?" Preston Austin, madfiber representative asked at the meeting. "We'll get that uniqueness exposed, upload it and share it."

Scott Resnick, another member of madfiber, said the site is aimed at generating excitement about the project that would require serious infrastructure construction in the city. He estimates that more than 1,000 cities will apply, but only about 100 will be taken as serious contenders.

Yesterday, Milwaukee kicked off it's own campaign to attract Google's attention. But some at the meeting felt Madison's flagship state university and heavy tech industry give it an edge.

Dave Devereaux, a representative from UW-Madison's technology department, said the amount of Internet consumption in Madison has doubled every year since 1994. Providing consistent fiber costs upwards of $50 million, but Google would be hoping to recoup that cost with collaboration.

"In the past it's been a zero-sum game," Devereaux said. "The previous risk of losing was high, but this is something new."

City officials are racing to gather demographic and infrastructure data to submit to Google by the March 26. Residents can join the campaign at madfiber.net and sign a petition using Google's mapping service.

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