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Op-ed: Google Fiber would help Salt Lake stay in the game

Published March 8, 2014 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Cities of the past were built on trade routes, the convergence of waterways, industrial engineering and manufacturing. Cities of the future will be built on the free flow of information, new technologies, innovation and collaboration.

Ideas, and the translation of those ideas into products, services and innovations are the new building blocks of future commerce. That's one reason everyone in Salt Lake City should take an interest in the recent announcement that Google is interested in bringing Google Fiber to Salt Lake City residents.

Utah has been ranked time and again as among the best in the nation for high-tech jobs and business. Salt Lake City is home to many of those jobs and members of our innovative workforce. And Google Fiber is already delivering service in Provo, enabling a new generation of Internet users to create the economy of the future.

Google's entry into our marketplace creates disruptions for existing local providers, such as Downtown Alliance partner X Mission, with sometimes unintended consequences. As a community, we should commit to understand and mitigate any unintended side effects, while appreciating the inherent positive impacts of increased competition in a marketplace.

The benefits of greater connectivity and the potential for a more educated and connected population are real. As we try to map a future for our community, this kind of infrastructure will be just as critical as canals, railways and interstate highways were in the past.

The possibility of building a new ultra high-speed network in Utah's Capital City would allow us to continue to benefit from the advantages a fiber network brings. Recent examples, not from Silicon Valley but from the American heartland, bear this out:

• In Ohio, a group of civic and business leaders united to found OneCommunity, a non-profit organization that would be focused on expanding high-speed broadband access throughout the northeastern part of the state. That was 10 years ago. Today, the region has become a hub for innovation thanks to the ultra high-speed fiber network OneCommunity and others worked so hard to build.

• And in Louisiana, health care leaders used the local fiber to the home network to create "Living Lab," a community-scale testing platform that allows researchers to test new solutions to health care challenges such as childhood obesity and the delivery of emergency medicine.

A connected and informed population will allow us to make better decisions as a community, to adapt and ultimately to help shape and control our destiny. It will allow us to find our own innovative, creative application of increased connectivity, like the examples above. And our location in the center of the West with easy connectivity to I-15 and I-80 creates opportunities for distribution.

A cohesive and collaborative business community makes Salt Lake well suited to succeed. And we have political leaders, from both political parties at all levels of government, who embrace a progressive pragmatism. This doesn't happen everywhere.

At the Downtown Alliance, we are committed to embracing change and helping to shape a future for our urban center that celebrates diversity and dynamic energy. Google's announcement should be an encouraging sign for our urban center.

Jason Mathis is executive director of the Downtown Alliance.