in Futurist, Media, Politics, Raleigh, X-Geek

N&O runs horrible broadband op-ed

The Google Fiber op-ed that ran in today’s N&O entitled “Google Fiber deal not in best interest of NC public” is so godawful that I don’t even know where to begin. Written by Dawson Gage, who calls himself an “IT worker, freelance writer, and aspiring law student,” it is incredibly misinformed on so many levels:

I rejoiced when my family first got broadband Internet when I was about 13, but I doubt it has made any of our lives richer or more productive. The usefulness of computers, for the most part, has little enough to do with how fast they are. No one wants delivery vans and school buses that go 20,000 mph.

Is Gage actually suggesting that life isn’t richer than in the days of dialup? Before YouTube, NetFlix, Wikipedia, Facebook, and Google? Apparently, having a mind-blowing amount of the world’s information instantly available isn’t rich or more productive enough for him. I bet he’s a big fan of the abacus.

In light of this, a massive dose of skepticism is appropriate. The upshot of the Google deal is that an enormously valuable piece of public infrastructure, which ought to be owned in common by the public, is handed over lock, stock and barrel to a private company based in California.

Do what, now? There is no “public infrastructure” being handed over to Google or anyone else. Google is getting nothing for free here. It’s paying its franchise fees, permits, taxes, and other costs just like any other company. I have no idea what Gage means here.

This same company was deeply involved in the illegal, secret surveillance of all our Internet usage by the NSA.

Well, no. Google reached out to NSA for help when the company found it had been hacked by the Chinese government. Soon afterward, when Edward Snowden’s documents revealed NSA was tapping directly into Google’s unsecured internal networks, the company angrily protested and immediately set about encrypting all of its links. This was the subject of an extensive story in June in the New York Times. What Gage wrote is patently false.

Its entire business model is founded on the premise that Google has the right to meticulously monitor and record every morsel of data that passes within its reach.

Google’s business model is to make money. They do this very well with advertising but it’s not all Google does. Part of Google’s mission seems to be pushing technological boundaries. This results in innovations like Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Voice, and Google Fiber. Sometimes these ideas don’t pan out (like Google Glass), but not everything they do is to support their advertising business.

Moreover, the law passed by the General Assembly to make public municipal Internet services illegal (save for that of Wilson, which was grandfathered in) is itself testament to the fact that public alternatives are feasible and sustainable. Indeed, at the time of that bill’s passage, the town of Chapel Hill was already laying its own high-speed fiber, which now presumably will be annexed by Google.

Well, no, again. See above. Municipally-owned networks will stay municipally-owned, and the same law Gage cites prevents cities from letting commercial entities use their networks even if they wanted to.

At the time of the law’s passage in 2011, its proponents argued that municipal or other government involvement in providing Internet service was “an interference in the free market.” Last time I checked, lobbying the government to outlaw an entire sector of potential competition was not much of a “free-market” approach. What erstwhile advocates of “free market” principles in the realm of infrastructure actually believe in is a doctrine of private ownership as an unchallenged system.

Why not simply contract Google – or even better, some of the many competent North Carolina businesses – to build a high-speed fiber network, which would then be owned by the public? Would any of us wish to drive on privately owned toll roads? Those who stand to benefit and, yes, profit from such ventures as the Google plan would prefer we did not ask such questions.

These passages echo the broadband op-ed I wrote back in 2011. Nothing new here.

And do we not imagine that Google views owning our Internet infrastructure as a fantastic bonanza of the data on which it feeds? Google Fiber is a business venture, not an act of philanthropy.

Yes, it’s a business, and Gage implying Google is only interested in monitoring its Google Fiber customers is not only unsupported by any evidence but goes a little into the tinfoil-hat arena.

Appeals to the virtues of the market are hollow in the cases of government-anointed monopolies like Google or, for that matter, Duke Energy. In the era of Gov. Pat McCrory, I understand that many of those in power see the private ownership of public infrastructure as a beau-ideal, part of the natural order.

Again, Google wasn’t awarded any monopoly here. Nor, strictly speaking, was Time Warner Cable (as much as I hate to admit it). The cities that succeeded in attracting Google did so by working through a checklist of requirements Google needed to determine whether a deployment was possible. This was what spurred on the N.C. Next Generation Network (NCNGN) effort: to figure out how to streamline these requirements. AT&T was the first company to agree to the NCNGN terms and has started rolling out its own fiber deployment. There is nothing preventing Google from also agreeing to the NCNGN terms and providing Google Fiber under this agreement. Google, however, has preferred to do things its own way in its previous deployments and I’m betting its Triangle deployments will be similar.

And for the last time, there is no “private ownership of public infrastructure” going on here.

Gage might want to check his facts before penning another op-ed, and maybe the N&O should pay a little more attention before it runs one like this.