Like a lot of Baltimoreans, it's hard for me to imagine how we managed to live happy, fullfilling lives before the advent of computers. It's actually amazing—maybe even a little alarming—how fast Americans from every walk of life, including children as young as 4 or 5, have become dependent on instant communication and computer-generated entertainment. And I'm certainly not imune: Whether it's my curiosity about comic books and collectibles, my following of all things Oriole, or my interest in Facebook, I spend hours each day in front of the magic box. And since most of us aren't able to envision the technological wonders the super-geeks of the world will bestow on us in the future, the only wish most computer-users have in 2010 is for a faster machine.
So it's with great interest and no small amount of civic pride that I have watched a handful of local tech leaders and business executives campaign for Baltimore to be a beta site for Google Fiber, an ultra-high-speed broadband network to be tested out in one or more American communities.
As associate editor Jess Blumberg writes this month, Google has applications from 1,000 or more U.S. cities and towns who want to be the first to have the fiber-optic cable buried under the streets of their communities, a system that promises the Internet Holy Grail: speeds up to 100 times faster than what most users have access to.
And Baltimore has a decent shot in the competition, thanks to the efforts of people like Tom Loveland, CEO of Mind Over Machines, an IT strategy and application design firm, and tech entrepreneur Dave Troy, who have rallied support from the likes of the Mayor, George Soros (founder of The Open Society Institute), and companies and nonprofit giants like the University of Maryland, The Johns Hopkins institutions, and Constellation Energy. (For more information, visit the group's site at bmorefiber.com.)
How's it work? Imagine that data is water: Right now, it's delivered in a garden hose, limiting speed. Then imagine the difference if the pipes are replaced with eight-foot diameter ducts.
Perhaps for many of us using a laptop with a wireless connection, it wouldn't be life-changing, since other factors like the capacity of switches, routers, the wireless connection itself, and the age of your computer can all work to reduce the full potential of Google Fiber. But for medium and large companies, like my own, and for hospitals and universities with fairly up-to-date IT systems, the network could save hundreds of hours a day, even thousands of dollars a year. (Imagine the execs at Under Armour using videoconferencing with clients in China rather than traveling there to fit an Olympic team with sportswear.)
It would be a terrific feather in Baltimore's cap if we got the nod and a giant leap forward for the major businesses, tech and biotech firms, and the medical research centers in the area. So let's all say a little e-prayer that it works out.