Welcome to Google, Kansas. Population: Awesome

The city of Topeka wants so badly to be picked for Google’s broadband experiment, it changed its name for the next month to Google, Kansas.

The City of Google
The City of Google

If you don’t believe me, check out the official Topeka Web site, www.Topeka.org, which already has a “City of Google” logo at the top.

It all started with Jared Starkey, a 26-year-old who runs Lamp Development, a small web-design business in Topeka.

Starkey and a grassroots group of other Topekans came up with the idea to change the city’s name to Google, and it caught the eye of a local TV-station manager, Jim Ogle, who brought it to the mayor’s attention.

“So, I just issued a proclamation,” Topeka — er, Google — Mayor Bill Bunten explained, crediting Starkey with the idea. “If we were chosen, we would have it and others wouldn’t, and that would be a positive for us. … It’s another way to let people know what we’re doing here,” Bunten said.

Google is accepting applications from communities hoping to be chosen for its broadband experiment through March 26. In the winning communities, Google will build and test an ultra high-speed broadband network that is expected to be 100 times faster than what most Americans are using today.

Changing the name was just one of the ways Starkey, a humble kid from Yates, a town of 1,800 that refers to itself as the “Hay Capital of the World,” and the grassroots effort he’s helped mobilize, “Think Big Topeka,”are trying to spread the word and catch Google’s attention.

He also coordinated a flash mob to attend a local business-planning meeting and popped down to the convention center during a garden show recently, handing out necklaces he made out of bright orange fiber-optic cable. And the Facebook page he set up, "Bring Google's Fiber Experiment to Topeka!,”already has more than 11,000 members — 10 percent of the city’s population!

“I’m just a regular guy that removed a pebble that caused a landslide!” Starkey quips.

Starkey says being selected would be so much more than just the cool factor that your town has the fastest Internet in America. He says it would mean that some of the research — in transportation, agriculture and medicine — that comes out of Topeka would be able to be shared with the world that much faster. Right now, the Kansas Department of Transportation has a comprehensive libarary of research but gets complaints all the time about how slow it is to download from the Web site.

Plus, he says, it would attract innovative new businesses to the city.

“We already have low property taxes and cost of living,” he explains. “If you’re a business trying to make one of these next-generation apps, you’d say, ‘Yeah, let’s go to Topeka.’”

And for businesses like his, it would help attract financing for projects like his dream of taking an old Bank of America data center and turning it into a city data center.

The people he’s been talking to about financing have already said, “If Google comes here — you’ll get your money no problem,” Starkey explains.

And on a personal note, he and his girlfriend, who lives in a different town, would be able to use Skype for video phone calls. Right now, they can’t.

Next up, the local PBS station is doing a half-hour primetime special on Topeka’s effort to woo Google. And there’s an event on March 20 where they’re going to have people show up in brightly colored shirts and form the “Google” logo, then shift to read “Topeka.”

And, the local coffee shop, PT Coffee Co., is handing out free coffee to anyone who stops by and submits a nomination for Topeka to Google.

Topeka isn’t the only city wooing Google. The Internet titan said it’s already received a dozen submissions from communities and thousands of submissions from individuals.

There are more than 200 Facebook pagesfor cities vying for the broadband glory, including Chico, Calif., and Kalamazoo, Mich.

But Topeka may just be the most determined.

Starkey says the company that owns the building his office is in, Security National Properties, has already announced that they are prepared to make space for Google.

“The business community is ready to welcome them with open arms,” Starkey says.

Beyond the economic boost it would provide, let’s face it — it would be just, plain cool.

“I’d feel like I just set foot on the moon if we won!” Starkey said.

Even if they don’t win, he’s ecstatic about the energy they’ve churned up and where it will take Topeka.

“Regardless of what happens with Google,” he said, “Topeka has awoken from its slumber and wants to reinvest in itself!” he exclaimed.

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