Google, a Business Game Changer
submitted by Michael Gay

The opportunity to be the chosen city for Google’s ultra high-speed fiber network will be the ultimate “game changer” for the successful applicant. I hope the leadership behind Madison’s application finds a way to become the “chosen one.” Not only would Google’s investment put us on par with international frontrunners (i.e. the Asian dragons of Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore, and cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, India), but it will also help reposition the Midwest as the true third coast in our country, help brand the IQ Corridor and Thrive Region, and make Madison the most wired city in America with the talent, legacy, and know how to maximize Google’s ROI.

Historically, the city’s role in economic development has been to facilitate the creation of new enterprises through enhancing economic opportunity. We don’t create the jobs, but we support and provide the necessary resources and infrastructure that result in a viable business environment. Our infrastructure investments have lead to private capital formation, job creation and retention, increased tax base, and a diversified economy. With respect to economic development game changers, I submit that the one gigabyte, ultra high-speed fiber network could fall second only to the continued excellence of UW-Madison in our community when it comes to advancing the city’s economic future and expanding its already powerful asset base.

Though Google’s proposal is designed to provide the last mile of linkage to residential users in Madison, the commercial and institutional applications would be powerful:

Employment Centers

If Google chooses Madison, science-based companies that utilize large data files would be able share ideas and data with academics and other companies at unprecedented levels and speeds. Imagine sending meteorological graphics or human genome scans in seconds from one company to another. This will lead to the expanded prevalence of international firms in Madison, particularly in the biotech, bioag, and engineering industry sectors. Madison’s home computers on this Google fiber network could also position Madison as the global leader in distributed or mesh computing, directly creating a world super computer for solving medical mysteries. For those unfamiliar with this concept, distributed computing uses idle and willing home computer CPUs during downtime to expedite massive data crunching — all connected by ultra fast fiber. This concept leverages free infrastructure and eradicates the need for super computers.

Business incubators, both hi-tech and traditional, could benefit greatly from this new infrastructure as it will enhance their marketability to all sorts of companies. It may even change the business model under which each incubator operates and/or create new incubators that we have yet to envision. For that matter, all real estate will change with this Google network serving as a differentiator. From a residential standpoint, Google’s investment is basically a $1,000 infrastructure improvement to each home. This would increase the value of Madison homes immediately. Plus, no other homes will have this ultra high-speed fiber capability which could lead to more home-based occupations and increased reverse commuting. Similarly, companies will consider this Google network in when selecting a commercial site the same way warehouse and distribution facilities seek interstate and rail connectivity. As the City of Madison develops the Capitol East District with a global IT, engineering and sustainability market focus, the presence of a Google IT infrastructure investment could do more to advance that massive effort than any other public investment. It would enhance the Metro Innovation Center’s IT tenants’ connectivity to anywhere else in the city, including the UW campus proper.

Additionally, the mere presence of this one gig fiber infrastructure could provide an amazing environment for discovery in the IT sector. It’s hard to build and execute ideas for better communication and service provision that run on this new technology without the Google infrastructure in place — even for savvy entrepreneurs in America’s best place to launch a business (as awarded by Forbes, CNN Money, Fast Company, biz journals and FierceBiotech from 2006 to 2010). With the Google fiber, IT companies will now have the ability to design new applications and software, and other related engineering technology for the parts of the world that run on this high-speed network daily. The connections to Asian IT business development opportunities would expound as we build on the presence of already existing IT industry leaders like Google, Sony, Microsoft and Raven Software-Activision (Middleton), while attracting new ones.

Major Corporate Connections

With Google’s investment, the plethora of institutions involved in health care (four hospitals, HMOs, clinics, laboratories, private corporations, and medical schools) could now be exponentially linked up and take advantage of the same speed of data transfer and communication as mentioned previously for science-based companies. Could health care costs be reduced locally with this technology? Maybe this could help Madison lead in this effort. Shut-ins could receive and review their MRIs, cat scans, and other medical records from home, and see and communicate “live,” in real time and with near perfect clarity, with their health care providers. Though difficult for some to imagine, futuristic thinkers in medicine envision a day when off-site medical robotic surgery occurs regularly away from the hospital via such ultra-speed networks. In theory, it is quite similar to factory plant managers running, maintaining and monitoring machinery and equipment from their living room — another activity that is likely to occur more regularly.

Imagine Promega (Fitchburg), Epic (Verona), GE Healthcare, Roche-Madison, Hologic, Danisco, and TomoTherapy all connected and communicating with biotech start-ups, academics and product engineers throughout Greater Madison. Granted, Verona and Fitchburg might not be in the system originally, but the market could drive the network extension change quickly.

Another major benefit of this Google investment would be the impact on data centers throughout Greater Madison. Right now, data centers are attracted to the Midwest because of our relatively stable physical environment with limited floods, earthquakes, wars, fires and the like. We also have a great workforce to operate these facilities, among other positive site selection factors like consistent power supply and a technology company base. But a data center is not totally safe (if that is 100% possible) until they have multiple (replica or mirrored) facilities connected to each other. A Google fiber network connection of multiple data centers could make Greater Madison almost totally fault tolerant. I think the design and placement of the Target data centers in the Twin Cities is case in point.

I can also envision Google’s network leading to great advances in the provision of professional services in our community, particularly for architects, engineers, lawyers, marketing firms, and non-medical health care professionals. Imagine performing on-site construction document analysis (i.e. Findorff’s interactive 3D digital modeling software) on a portable 6 foot by 8 foot Apple iPad during the construction of the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery on University Avenue. Imagine the ability to send massive professional documents to commercial printers for production in the matter of seconds. Imagine connecting the Google network with the existing wireless community infrastructure already in place.

Connections to the Education and Government

There are numerous academic institutions in Madison: Edgewood, Herzing, Lakeland, Madison College, Upper Iowa, UW-Madison, among others. Each would benefit immensely from unprecedented linkages between professors, instructors, administrators, and students. Both downloading and uploading data (assignments) will be immediate and file size will be irrelevant. This technology would also benefit students uploading assignments for the classes they are taking out of state or out of the country.

The provision of governmental services will change over time. I have yet to get my head around “game changers” in state governmental services as Google’s investment would be confined to one city and the state’s service territory covers 72 counties. Ultimately, I can envision better regulatory coordination and oversight. I can also see new defense application development for both the state and federal government resulting, maybe enhancing Wisconsin Security Research Consortium’s efforts in this market.

At the local level, police, fire, library and public access services could be improved. Connecting this ultra fast fiber network via wireless technology to police and fire vehicles could save lives. Downloading books online would be instantaneous and a brand new central library adjacent to Network 222 would be serendipitous.

Finally, the job creation for infrastructure installation — an estimated 1,000 jobs over 10 years — is greatly needed both today and tomorrow. But the non-construction employment that could result from new entrepreneurial and institutional development opportunities could dwarf this number. By having this 21st Century infrastructure at home, school and work in Madison, maybe, just maybe, we can lower our number one export by reversing the brain drain that has plagued our city and state.

Google’s fiber network is a state-of-the-art infrastructure proposition. There are many other opportunities, advances, and benefits that will materialize that have yet to be imagined. But in this age when the United States of America’s position in the global economy is changing (and not always for the better), it has become evident that the winning community will be catapulted into a global leadership position. Madison’s existing base of assets, talents, and mind-set should make us a top candidate.

I wish to thank Justin Barnes, Director of Interactive Technology at Knupp Watson and Wallman for the idea sharing and brainstorming that went into the creation of this article.

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