Saturday, May 18, 2024

There are some things about Cambridge that might appeal to Google in its search for test sites for its ultrafast Internet program, in which the company will give 50,000 to 500,000 people fiber-optic cable infrastructure that moves data about 100 times faster.

But there are also some negatives, and beyond saying it will decide on its test communities by the end of the year, Google is silent on the matter, City Manager Robert W. Healy said Monday at a meeting of the City Council.

“We certainly fall within the range of size and population. An advantage in this case is our density, the smaller area to be covered,” Healy said. “We do have a considerable amount of underground. The existing cable television franchise and other utilities have constructed underground, and the regulatory rule is that where there is [already utilities] underground, the construction must be underground, and there is additional expenses associated with constructing conduit underground — unless the Google people could negotiate space in their competitors’ conduit.”

There will be more discussion of the pursuit of Google — in which Cambridge is joined by more than 1,100 communities — at a meeting of the Cable TV, Telecommunications and Public Utilities Committee at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall. The committee is led by councillors Leland Cheung, who asked the city manager in February to approach Google, and Henrietta Davis, who brought up the issue Monday by noting Topeka, Kan., changed its name to Google for a month in a bid to capture the company’s attention.

There’s no way of knowing it will help, but on April Fool’s Day the company changed it’s distinctive search-engine logo to say “Topeka” instead of “Google.”

“Are we trying any stunts?” Davis asked to laughs. “Can we change our name to Topeka?”

“Topeka would never understand,” Healy said. He also was “not sure the Harvard and MIT cheerleaders coming out will do anything.”

But Cheung was keen to explore what might. He was already talking to everybody he could at Google’s Cambridge offices, he said, and was willing to talk to others if they were brought to his attention.

He was realistic about the city’s chances, though. “If you’re Google and you’re trying to figure out where you can go and lay cable and have free rein to do whatever you want, that’s not Cambridge,” he said.

Although the city is in the midst of negotiating a contract with Comcast, legally Internet is an entirely different matter from television, so Cambridge can’t make sharing underground conduit a factor in the contract renewal, Cheung said.

“No one is more excited about this than I am — I don’t think anyone uses more bandwidth than I do, running my own server at home,” he said. “But I want to be cautiously optimistic … I think we should all be cautiously optimistic.”