Correction: In an earlier version of this story, The Daily incorrectly reported that James Keene is a Palo Alto city planner. He is the city manager.
Long before they were multibillion-dollar entrepreneurs or known as the “Google Guys,” Sergey Brin M.S. ’95 and Larry Page M.S. ’98 were like any other computer science students at Stanford University. Reveling in the robust Silicon Valley atmosphere of the late ‘90s, the pair, along with their peers, embraced the opportunities at an institution on the cutting edge of computer technology.
Paired with their exploration was a bold project that would later become the basis for a revolutionary online search engine: Google. But back in those days, when their project consisted of a few desktops crammed into a dorm room, Brin and Page sometimes found the going difficult as Stanford’s infrastructure strained to support the pair’s fledgling vision.
Now, more than 10 years later, the company that Brin and Page founded is still searching for a more advanced solution to prevent this type of technological slowdown. In February, Google announced that it would select a city through an application process to experiment with a new “ultra high-speed broadband” network.
When the application period ended on March 26, more than 1,100 cities had submitted applications to the Mountain View-based company to be chosen as the test location. Among those applications was one from Palo Alto, which city officials believe has a great chance of attracting the Internet Goliath and its new network.
The company proposed the project, dubbed Google Fiber, after prompting the Federal Communications Commission to reexamine its current National Broadband Plan. The experiment promises fiber-to-home connections that could make Internet speeds up to 100 times faster.
Palo Alto City Manager James Keene said the city has a number of qualities that would make it attractive to Google, including a 40-mile fiber ring already in place that may prove a solid foundation for the company to improve upon. He also noted the city’s reputation as the birthplace of Silicon Valley, referencing how Hewlett Packard was started out of a garage in downtown Palo Alto.
Keene believes Palo Alto’s connection and proximity to the University could also prove an advantage in the city’s bid for Google Fiber.
“Palo Alto and Stanford have this intertwined relationship where [the Palo Alto] community is very much a result of the intellectual and creative capital from Stanford,” Keene said.
While the city had already gained support from a number of large companies in the area, including Tesla and Facebook, Stanford’s backing for the proposal became a major boon for Palo Alto, according to Keene.
In a March 15 e-mail, the city manager asked Larry Horton, Stanford’s senior associate vice president of government and community relations, and the University to publicly support the city’s application.
“We hope and believe that Stanford will benefit by having every Palo Alto residence and business wired (fibered, really) for gigabit-speed Internet access,” Keene wrote. “Your employees, associated staff and professional services located in Palo Alto would have state-of-the-art access and the ability to work on and develop connectivity potentials not otherwise available today.”
Stanford threw its weight behind the proposal, and Horton said he was “eager to see city improve its infrastructure” and could “only imagine it doing good things.”
While officials were unsure whether or not Google Fiber would be provided on campus if Google picks Palo Alto, Keene believes the network would definitely benefit the Stanford community and further drive innovative thinking, whether it is out of a home garage or at Stanford Hospital.
“For an economy that’s going to increasingly rely on innovation and creativity…we better build the infrastructure with high-speed fiber, a creative roadway of the future,” Keene said. “A place like Palo Alto is already full of doctors and Internet users, and imagine if we were able to ramp that up and start a new wave of innovation and creativity.”
“With Stanford there’s a big engine that generates Silicon Valley,” Keene added. “Everyone is aware of that. Both our tradition history and linkage with Stanford and their support for our application, we think, is critically important.”