Two months ago, city officials and business leaders were giddy with the notion that Baltimore maybe — just maybe — could lure Google Inc. to build a next-generation fiber-optic network for blazing-fast Internet service.
On Wednesday, a larger group of city boosters wrestled with a more sobering possibility: What if Google doesn't choose Baltimore? More than 1,100 communities across the United States are vying for Google's Fiber for Communities pilot project. And Google isn't expected to announce a winner until the end of the year.
That's why Baltimore Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake wants to explore how to expand high-speed fiber-optic Internet service to city residents with or without Google's help. The mayor has launched a panel that would consider other options as Baltimore lags other cities in terms of access to faster broadband Internet service.
One option that has been tried in at least one other U.S. city would be to build a fiber-optic network that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars and would be financed through revenue bonds sold on Wall Street.
"We can't sit here and wait for a gift from Google to fall on us from the sky," said Tom Loveland, whom Rawlings-Blake has appointed the city's volunteer Google czar. "This is our future we're talking about here. Those of us involved in the conversation have seen what other cities have already accomplished. These folks managed to get themselves wired without Google. If they can do it, we can do it, too."
Loveland spoke to a crowd of about 200 people at a symposium about the city's fiber-optic efforts at the University of Baltimore on Wednesday. Loveland said organizers notified Google of the event to signal how serious the city is about somehow building a new network for residents.
Google officials could not be reached for comment.
Rawlings-Blake submitted an electronic application to Google from her office in City Hall in late March.
Loveland and Donald C. Fry, chairman of the Greater Baltimore Committee, will lead the mayor's exploratory panel to assess Baltimore's fiber-optic future. The panel, which does not yet have other members, would likely start making recommendations by the end of the year.
"Even if Google doesn't come here, what are the assets that we have here?" Fry said. "We have to look around for best practices."