High Jinks Heat Up Battle for Google Broadband

A state capital changes its name and a mayor jumps into an icy lake in two of several gimmicks deployed by cities to attract Google's fiber networks.

by / March 12, 2010

Photo: Don Ness, mayor of Duluth, Minn.

When it comes to how far states are willing to go for a supersonic fiber-optic network, Google has become the proverbial Klondike bar.

Ever since the search engine kingpin announced in February its plans to use at least one city to test a broadband network that's 100 times faster than what's typically available in America, local governments have gone off the deep end (literally, in the case of Duluth, Minn.'s mayor) to try to win the affections of Google Fiber for Communities.

It has been a battle of one-upmanship, but all in good fun. The mayor of Topeka, Kan. temporarily changed the name of the capital city to Google for the month of March. In Duluth, Minn., officials fired back with a YouTube spoof video of a press conference, proclaiming that henceforth every firstborn male in the city will be named Google Fiber and every firstborn female Googlette Fiber.

"Please remember that just because Topeka was the first to make an obnoxious symbolic gesture to suck up to the good folks there at Google, doesn't mean that we can't suck up even more," a fictional mayor says in the spoof. "Cast aside all dignity and self-respect because that is what it's going to take if we are going to beat the good folks of Topeka, Kansas -- I mean, Google, Kansas."

Another viral video shows the real mayor of Duluth, Don Ness, leaping into icy Lake Superior.

"I've laid down the gauntlet," he boasted after he emerged from the lake, a drenched white T-shirt clinging to his frame. "All right, you other mayors: You want Google Fiber, you jump in Lake Superior."

These examples represent the most extreme publicity stunts, and who knows whether they will sway Google's decision. Cities have until March 26 to submit their pitches. Google plans to select a winner before 2011, which leaves plenty of time for more creative antics by governments. But most cities have stayed out of the madcap fray, primarily using Facebook fan pages to show public displays of interest.

But Sarasota, Fla. recently jumped into the mix. In a move out of Topeka's playbook, the coastal city changed the name of its City Island to Google Island. But campaigners wasted no time taking shots at Topeka's boring landscape and Duluth's freezing weather in this video, which contrasts those dreary images with tropical vistas of Sarasota as Bobby McFerrin sings "Don't Worry, Be Happy" in the background.


Russell Nichols Staff Writer
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