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The city of Missoula will submit an application to be one of Google's test sites for "ultra-high-speed" Internet connections.

"We need to keep swinging at the pitches," Missoula Mayor John Engen said Friday.

The project, called Google Fiber for Communities, plans to test "ultra-high-speed broadband networks." That means "Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today."

Competitive rates are part of the deal, according to the Web site, www.google.com/appserve/fiberrfi.

"It could be a huge jump-start to economic development," said Matt Ranta, a marketing manager in Missoula. "The technology businesses that will be attracted to cities where Google launches this program will be large in number."

Ranta, who commented in an e-mail, said Missoula's economy isn't as robust as it should be. Landing a deal for an ultra-high-speed broadband network would be a "shot in the arm" for the city and surrounding areas.

That's how Missoula would gain. Ranta also argued Google would be well-served to select a city such as this one.

"Missoula is a highly progressive community with a fantastic university, a fair number of technology or online businesses for the locale, and is the second-largest city in the state," Ranta said.

Missoula Redevelopment Agency director Ellen Buchanan said she has been working on an application for Missoula since the day the opportunity was announced. She agrees with people telling her Missoula has a shot in part because it's compact and flat, and the population is well educated and Internet savvy.

"The number of people that use the Internet here is probably high compared to a lot of other places," Buchanan said.

She said that's in part because Missoula is home to the University of Montana. Buchanan encouraged people to make the case that the Garden City be chosen. Go to www.google.com/appserve/fiberrfi/public/options.

"One of the things they're looking for is a whole lot of community support," Buchanan said.

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Mayor Engen said he'd like to hold a community meeting about the application to make sure it's "as strong as any they see." He decided Friday to pitch the idea of such a session after hearing at a breakfast meeting that there's wide community interest in the project.

"What I'm going to propose in a staff meeting on Tuesday is arranging a community summit around this so that we're coordinating our efforts," Engen said.

Last month, the mayor announced the Best Place Project, a plan to push economic development in Missoula. He said strong infrastructure is part of that effort - and connectivity is one piece.

Ranta, the marketing manager, said he's hopeful Google would cover the entire community if it selects Missoula so he could benefit. He's interested in the topic as a consumer, professional and community resident.

"The first thing that comes to mind is that I'd likely get rid of my cable subscription and switch over to completely watching television programming and movies online via streaming services that require higher MBPS download speeds than Missoula's main providers are currently offering," Ranta wrote. "It would save me money."

Applications are due March 26.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

 

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