In many ways, from natural disasters to economic upheaval, these are difficult times we live in. So it’s all too easy to focus on the negative.
However, I was inspired and humbled recently working on a unique project with a quick turnaround time. A coalition led by the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council recently answered a national Request for Information for Google to consider L-A as a testing site for a super high-speed Internet fiber network that would be 100 times faster than average Americans have access to at home.
If L-A were selected for such a site, it would reap extraordinary benefits. Lightning-fast bandwidth would serve as a powerful business attraction tool, a valuable asset for local hospitals and universities, an amazing convenience to residents, and a means to gain national public relations exposure.
What was remarkable in all this was the collaboration and in-kind support — all provided at moment’s notice and with sacrifice and enthusiasm — from local individuals and the public and private sectors.
LAEGC and the Western Maine Economic Development Council decided it would add weight to their proposals if they jointly collaborated on a single application. Much to their credit, Oxford Networks – which services the L-A and Oxford Hills region – decided that it wasn’t threatened by the effort and, in fact, wrote a letter of support for the joint application. (Oxford has made tremendous strides in providing high-speed Internet to Central and Western Maine.)
Consider that more than 25 letters of support – ranging from town managers to private companies and chambers of commerce – were written, most of them in less than a week. Since Google required a single point of contact for all joint applications, project organizers approached the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments and received an immediate response: “Absolutely!”
At the eleventh hour, an idea was hatched to create a video that would show widespread community support for the project. Quite simply, broad representative groups of people – from senior citizens to high school students, store owners to preschoolers – would be videotaped enthusiastically shouting, “We want Google!”
The idea was presented on a Friday, with video shot the following Wednesday. LAEGC approached Tammie Grieshaber, a local photographer/videographer, to see if she would have any interest in doing the project, despite its having no budget and little advanced warning. Without hesitation, Tammie cleared her calendar. She shot the footage Wednesday, edited on Thursday, and had it completed by Friday morning.
Another idea that seemed to have an impossible deadline: design a web page that would include letters of support, graphics, and the video. LAEGC approached T.H. Creations, a Lewiston-based web design and hosting company, asking them if they could create a web page on the Growth Council’s site for the Google project.
They did one better: they researched to see if the domain name “LAwantsgoogle.com” was available. Seeing as it was, they purchased the URL (with their own funds), and designed a customized website, complete with a distinctive logo, copies of the support letters, the video, and a link to Facebook. It was designed pro-bono in about three days.
Speaking of Facebook, a Bates College intern created a Facebook group called “Google Fiber for L-A and Western Maine,” and the word spread like wildfire. The Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce quickly sent a mass e-mail to its entire membership encouraging people to become fans of the site, and within 72 hours, the site broke the 1,000-fan threshold. At the time of this writing, the fan count was at 1,283.
Admittedly, given the national competition with 1,100 or so communities responding to the request, getting selected by Google for its fiber project is a long shot. In the end, however, L-A and Western Maine can take pride in having sent Google a strong application and an effective message. L-A shone brightly in the news coverage that appeared in the Sun Journal, on WGME, WMTW, and New England Cable News.
The region collectively did what it does best: it produced quality results by collaborating with creative and dedicated individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations.
That’s the real fiber that powers this community.
Paul Badeau is the marketing director for the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council in Lewiston.