The city of Merced is working with UC Merced and other local government agencies on an application to become a test site in Google's ultra-high-speed Internet program.
"We're trying to put forth the best application we can to convince them that we're a city where (Google) should come and put their network," said Merced city spokesman Mike Conway. "If we could get this kind of service here, it would help bridge the digital divide. There are a lot of lower-income people here who do have a computer but can't afford monthly fees for DSL lines or high-speed connections."
Google said earlier this month that it plans to test ultra-high-speed broadband networks more than 100 times faster than current Internet access standards. In its announcement, Google set a March 26 deadline for interested communities to apply for the project.
UC Merced spokeswoman Patti Waid Istas confirmed that the university is involved and is drafting a letter of support for the project.
"We're really excited about the idea, both for the region and the university, having higher bandwidth," she said. "Faster communication would benefit everyone."
Istas said that faster Internet speeds could enhance the university's telemedicine program, which allows patients in rural communities to be treated by doctors elsewhere. The fiber network could also help the university share lectures and academic content with the public. "That's something you see at larger universities," she said.
Istas drew parallels to the efforts to build the University of California campus in Merced County.
"Anything that we can do to bring longterm infrastructure to the region is going to benefit everyone," she said. "I could see several industries relocating to Merced because of this. It could really become a goldmine for the area."
Conway said that Merced County, Merced County Office of Education and Merced College have also been invited to participate in the joint application, adding that the city hopes individual residents will also fill out the online request form to show support for the project.
The form can be found here: http://www.google.com/appserve/fiberrfi.
Keep checking MercedSunStar.com for updates on this developing story.