Monday, March 18, 2013

kansas city gives it up for google....,

Harpers | In its 2010 National Broadband Plan, the Federal Communications Commission declared, “Every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service.” It’s a worthy goal, given that nearly 100 million Americans still lack high-speed access to the Web. But how should this goal be achieved? The FCC could have looked back to successful New Deal programs that expanded access to electricity. In the early decades of the twentieth century, private holding companies controlled 94 percent of the power generation in the United States and kept the vast majority of rural areas dark. In response, Franklin Roosevelt persuaded Congress to nance locally owned electric cooperatives and large,government-owned bodies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority to bring powerto rural customers at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, the FCC’s plan primarily advocates a return to the Roaring Twenties. The agency argues that the market needs less regulation, not more—and that the best candidates to fund and control the nation’s next-generation networks are private companies. This is the philosophy that has brought Google to Kansas City, where the search-engine leviathan has signed a deal to build a citywide ber-optic network.

Why does Google feel so at home in Kansas City—rather than in, say, California, where the company is based? Why not build their fi rst citywide fi ber-optic network in a nearby community? According to Google vice president Milo Medin, the company has preferred to steer clear of such pesky statutes as the California Environmental Quality Act. “Many new California city proposals . . . were ultimately passed over in part because of the regulatory complexity here,” Medin told a congressional committee in 2011. “In fact, part of the reason we selected Kansas City for the Google Fiber project was [that] the city’s leadership and utility moved with eff ciency and creativity in working with us to craft a real partnership.” Conservative pundits have been much more explicit about what this kind of “partnership” means. In a blog post on the project, former FCC official Fred Campbell celebrated Google’s “rejection of the public-interest community’s regulatory agenda. . . . That’s the policy template that worked for the residents of Kansas City. It could work for the rest of America too.”

So why would an Internet-search company want to spend a fortune to install fiber-optic cable in Kansas City, Missouri, and neighboring Kansas City, Kansas? Freedom from regulatory headaches is one part of the equation: if such networks are the wave of the future, the time to jump in is now, before legislative oversight can ruin the party. But another explanation might be the treasure trove of user-behavior information that such a network represents. Data of this kind is so prized that a company like Google can afford to give away other services for free, as long as this bene cence opens up new markets . In Kansas City, low-income subscribers to the company’s slower, “free” Internet option will be giving Google details about each URL they visit, even if their accounts remain anonymous. And customers who plunk down $120 a month for the “Full Google Experience” will have their television-viewing habits individually tracked by Google’s data-mining elves. Is this a reasonable bargain? For Kansas City, it’s too late to ask. But history—and the success of municipally owned fiber-optic projects throughout the country—strongly suggest that we should look this gift horse in the mouth.

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