Make Charleston a ‘Google Fiber’ city

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, (from left), Tom Lowry, head of the Google Atlanta office, Scott Levitan, director of Marketing Google Fiber, and Tino Mantella, Technology Association of Georgia president, announce the launch of Google Fiber in Atlanta, one of four cities also including Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, and Nashville on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Curtis Compton)

Four Southern cities are about to get an Internet upgrade courtesy of Google Fiber, a super-fast fiber optic service the search giant has experimentally rolled out in select cities since 2011. Unfortunately, Charleston isn’t one of them.

Google announced this week that Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham and Nashville will be the next cities where the company will install a Fiber network. More than 1,100 municipalities — including Charleston — have asked to be the next Fiber city since Google began accepting applications in 2010. So far only three have a functioning network.

But that doesn’t mean Charleston is doomed to withstand the broadband status quo indefinitely.

For one thing, some technology analysts think Charleston is likely on Google’s shortlist for the next wave of Fiber expansion. While Google has been extremely secretive about its selection process, the Fiber cities chosen so far are mostly medium-sized metro areas with good business and population growth potential. It also helps to be close to an existing Google data center.

Charleston certainly fits that bill.

Hundreds of municipalities are begging for Fiber service.

Greenville even herded hundreds of residents into the shape of the Google logo for a photo-op when it made a 2010 bid to be the first Fiber city.

The mayor of Duluth, Minn., upped the ante with a joking decree that all first-born children in the city be named Google Fiber or Googlette Fiber. Parental reaction was lukewarm at best.

Why are cities so desperate for Google’s attention?

Part of it stems from the good publicity that comes with a stamp of approval from one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing companies.

Google Fiber is also a really impressive Internet service. It offers download speeds of one gigabit, which is about 10 times faster than the average broadband Internet connection, at a reasonable price. Customers can also bundle a television package for an additional fee.

And for those who don’t mind having fast Internet rather than blazing fast Internet, Google Fiber provides a basic broadband service for free.

Of course, there are other companies that offer gigabit Internet networks that could potentially be enticed to come to Charleston.

Some cities like Chattanooga, Tenn., have successfully explored public-private partnerships to bring fiber optic connections to their residents.

Gigabit Internet can be a big draw for tech companies and other industries to set up shop in a city. Adding a new fiber optic network also tends to force competitors to boost speeds and bring down prices.

Charleston already does a good job marketing itself as a tech-friendly city ripe for new investment, and an Internet upgrade would be a major boost for the local economy.

As Fiber service expands in the Southeast, city leaders ought to make sure Google knows that the invitation is open.