Google Fiber and public infrastructure

There has been a great deal of positive coverage for Google Fiber’s rollout across two municipal areas (and because we’re talking about the US I’ll keep to their spelling of ‘fibre’.

One thing glossed over in most of the news coverage has been which level of society will benefit most. Michael Hiltzik has looked at this for the LA Times and concluded the people who won’t benefit are those who have most to gain from fast internet access: Those at the lowest levels of society.

As it is currently structured, the communities that will receive Google Fiber are those that band together to contribute financially to building the infrastructure. Naturally this the same group of people who can afford faster internet access anyway, not those further down the social ladder who could benefit from faster access to things like educational resources and job information.

Google has tried to put the best face on this by portraying the qualification process as a sort of community kumbaya, “allowing the citizens of City to determine where and when the Project will be deployed.” (The words come from Google’s contract with Kansas City, Mo.)

But that’s nonsense. Had the city tried to make that determination through its elected representatives, say by requiring service to underprivileged neighborhoods, Google’s response would have been, “Adios.” The company’s goal was to spend money where it was likeliest to attain a critical mass of customers. The inevitable outcome was an economic one: redlining.

LA Times

Once, big projects which needed the support of local government, like Google Fiber does, had to provide benefits for all members of the local community. This produced some of things we now take for granted, like access to clean water and electricity. Let’s hope Google Fiber doesn’t set a trend for businesses who want to run utility services being able to ignore ‘unprofitable’ groups.

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