Community leaders aim to Spam Google

Published 7:11 am Thursday, March 18, 2010

Community leaders are trying to entice Google to embrace Spam.

Local officials, employees of the Hormel Institute and Hormel Foods Corp. mascot Spammy gathered outside the Hormel Institute at 3 p.m. Wednesday to formally launch and promote Austin’s campaign to be chosen as one of the communities to test Google’s ultra-high speed broadband network.

Shawn Riley, director of information technology at Austin Medical Center, said Google and Spam — referring to the Internet version rather than the food — haven’t always gone well together, but city leaders are looking to change that.

Community development director Craig Hoium said landing Google Fiber could be a life changing thing for the community of Austin’s business and residential communities.

While the city of Austin will submit the formal application, one of the keys of the project is public involvement. Hoium urged the public to participate through www.googleaustinmn.com. People can log onto the site to express support for the project and share how Google Fiber would benefit the community.

“We really need you to participate in the public aspect,” Hoium said.

Receiving Google Fiber could potentially drive economic and community development, he added.

Riley said Google Fiber would revolutionize how Austin receives Internet. Google’s broadband network would be 10 times faster than today’s state-of-the-art networks.

“This is a huge opportunity for Austin,” Riley said. “All of Austin, and the communities around us have an opportunity here that is unlike any that has come in the past.”

Riley compared the Web potential of Google Fiber to going from an eye dropper to a fire hose. The super-fast Internet would allow the Hormel Institute to share research in new ways, he said. It would allow Austin Medical Center to share data and offer services in an unparalleled manner, he added.

Many community organizations and businesses are backing Austin’s push to land the super-fast broadband Internet. The Austin Area Chamber of Commerce is backing the program, and chamber director Sandy Forstner said Hormel Foods Corp. and the Hormel Institute — which both have international reach — will help draw Google to Austin.

“We think we have a lot to offer,” said Sandy Forstner, Austin Area Chamber director.

On Monday, the Austin City Council voiced its support for the project. The Austin Public School District is supporting Austin’s campaign to land the ultra-high speed Internet, Hoium added.

Austin is jumping into the race late in the game, as Google announced the program about a month ago, and the deadline to apply is March 26.

Austin joins a long, growing list of communities vying for super-fast broadband. Last month, Duluth Mayor Don Ness leaped into Lake Superior to support a combined effort by Duluth and Superior, Wis. to land the broadband network. St. Paul’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood and the City of St. Paul have also been reported to be applying.

However, Riley said the community can come together in a short period of time to support Austin because people can contribute on through the Internet. Forstner said it will be important for people to be involved in the process.

“It’s all about the social media,” Forstner said. “It’s not what we’re going to do. It’s more what the community is going to do.”

The project also has a Facebook page and a Twitter account supporting Austin.

Hoium said he hopes to have the application completed this week. Hoium stressed the city isn’t competing with existing Internet providers, but he said it will give the Internet providers an opportunity to provide that service.

— Rachel Drewelow contributed to this report