Googlefiber in Kansas City. Photo by Rodney T.
I mentioned this article about the "Slaves to Google" in the latest Harper's deep in my post about Beth Noveck and the Wired State folks but it deserves its own post -- Google, which is supposedly bringing to Kansas City a broadband experiment that will save us all, is actually rationing the broadband, according to an article that was unfortunately not put up free online, although other articles critical of Google's project in Kanas have been. This important article by Whitney Terrell and Shannon Jackson is in stark constrast to all the breathless tech press coverage of this "magnanimity," and the accounts of "more broadband than we knew what to do with". (It also represents a concretization of my hope that more people in the humanities will come forward with good critiques of Google.)
Look at this appalling concept of "fiberhoods" brought to us in Kansas City creating broadband haves and have-nots in a system that was supposed to increase broadband -- as the Harper's piece explains, critiquing the much-ballyhooded Google "socialism in one city" project:
Utility-owned networks guarantee access to every citizen in a municipality. Google, by contrast, divided up Kansas City into 202 "fiberhoods" -- and decreed that between 5 and 25 percent of the residents in each fiberhood had to preregister for its service by paying a ten-dollar fee and opening a Google account. Fiberhoods that didn't qualify would be left out of the network. Worse, Google's fiberhood map bisected the city at Troost Avenue, a historical racial divide. It soon became clear that most lower-income black areas would fail to meet the preregistration quotas. Local teachers and librarians began canvassing door-to-door with Google employees, urging residents to sign up, and charitable groups raised money for registration fees. A majority of these fiberhoods ultimately qualified for service. But the frenzied volunteer push revealed an uncomfortable truth behind the city's "real partnership" with Google: Kanasas City had left itself powerless to guarantee service for its most vulnerable constituents. And it could not compel Google to redraw its maps in a less discriminatory way. (Of course, the vegan bakery, Pilates studio, and Italian deli next door to Google's subsidized offices received their fiber service for free.)
The authors also talk about the real reason this experiment was done in Kansas, and not California -- a town willing to drop all its regulatory functions over this corporation.
But another explanation might be the treasure trove of user-behaviour 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 beneficence 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 Kasnas 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.
Pick up the hard-copy of this issue of Harpers from your news stand -- this article is a must-read. Plus, it has a good story from John LeCarre (although some of his whiney lefty pontificating to go with it) and another useful article about Ron Paul.
Happy, shiny people bringing Googlefiber to Kansas City. Photo by UFCFool.
How the Googlers live. Photo by UFCFool.