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Editorial: Broadband Plan B

The word from Google finally came down last week, and for Baltimore it was disappointing: The California Internet giant picked Kansas City, Kan., as the beta site for an ultra-fast broadband network designed to increase Web access for residents and businesses.

Obviously it would have been a windfall of gigantic proportions if Google had decided to spend hundreds of millions of dollars here instead of Kansas City to build a network capable of delivering Internet speeds 100 times faster than typical service providers.

But that was a very long shot and we all knew it. The important thing is that Baltimore’s bid for the Google project has focused local attention and resources on this topic in a new and exciting way.

The organizers behind Baltimore’s bid, from the public and private sectors, began focusing last summer on how the city could press ahead with a broadband effort without Google.

We applauded that shift of strategy then and we are glad to see that focus remains intact today.

Tom Loveland, Baltimore’s “Google czar” and CEO of software firm Mind Over Machines, told The Daily Record’s Ben Mook that meetings and discussions over the past year have convinced a variety of stakeholders that there are new ways the city can boost broadband access for businesses and residents.

One of the biggest is the One Maryland Broadband Network. A $115 million stimulus-funded project, OMBN will feature more than 1,200 miles of high-speed Internet line to 1,006 government facilities and community “anchor institutions” in every county in the state. The new network is expected to reach 2 million homes and 443,000 businesses, with work starting in the next few years.

“I was saying early on that if the whole Google thing turns out to be a hoax, or doesn’t happen for some reason, then God bless them because they got the city and nation talking about the future,” Loveland said. “We saw the future and wanted that future, and now with things like OMBN, we’re going forward.”

There’s also the possibility that Google could expand its fiber effort to other cities, organizers say. If that’s the case, valuable groundwork has been laid over the past year.

Securing Baltimore’s Internet future needs to be a priority, even at a time of slashed budgets and sluggish economic growth. Like transportation infrastructure, technology infrastructure is an essential investment in the future of our city, state and nation.

Leveraging public-sector resources, as the OMBN project plans to do, is a smart strategy and a good way to demonstrate future value to an innovator like Google.