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Google's super-broadband plan could benefit agencies' online efforts

Google's new plan to provide super-fast Internet access to select locations nationwide could indirectly improve the delivery of online federal services, but the company has not decided if it will build out the network at government agencies, officials at the search firm said.

Google expects to test "ultra -high-speed" networks, spooling out 1 gigabit of data per second -- more than 100 times faster than typical access -- in a small number of communities, the company announced on Wednesday. Google has issued a request for information to identify interested communities and said it welcomes responses from local governments and the public.

"In the same way that the transition from dial-up to broadband made possible the emergence of online video and countless other applications, ultra high-speed bandwidth will lead to new innovations -- including streaming high-definition video content, remote data storage, distance learning, telemedicine, real-time multimedia collaboration and others that we cannot yet imagine," Minnie Ingersoll, product manager on Google's alternative access team, said in a statement.

Google officials said they could not comment on specific applications for the federal government and have not narrowed down the places or sectors where the networks will be deployed. The service, which the company says will be competitively priced, will be offered to a total of between 50,000 and 500,000 people.

The remote Web-based -- or cloud -- services that Google envisions offering align with a key goal of the Obama administration's proposed fiscal 2011 IT budget. "Adoption of a cloud computing model is a major part of the strategy to achieve efficient and effective IT," the recently released budget stated, adding such technology is typically less expensive than maintaining a federal data center.

But government purchasing rules might prevent Google from trying out the technology at federal departments during the pilot period, some IT industry officials said.

"There's probably a procurement matter," said Mike Wendy, director of public affairs for CompTIA, an information technology industry group that represents several telecommunications companies. Google is not a member of the association.

"More than likely there would be some sort of grander government proposal that they would have to go through. It would need to be an open bidding process," he said.

The biggest beneficiary of Google's tactic probably will be consumers who like to regularly download rich content, Wendy said. To the extent that those consumers now will be able to connect to data-intensive government webcasts, such as online town hall meetings or public service announcements, then the consumer benefits and so does the government, he noted.

Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, welcomed Google's super-speed service plan. "The FCC's national broadband plan will build upon such private sector initiatives and will include recommendations for facilitating and accelerating greater investment in broadband, creating jobs and increasing America's global competitiveness," he said in a statement.

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