Monday, April 21, 2014

Seattle Times Newspaper: Portland’s foray into getting Google Fiber problematic

I think the Seattle Times' article points out how universal service for broadband internet in not something private companies are interested in actually delivering. "Cherry picking" the best neighborhoods in Kansas City is a good example.

The article is intended to motivate Seattle to observe and learn from Google's demands in Portland, and the actual delivery in Kansas City, but the article may have fallen short.
The article probably should have come right out and mentioned municipal broadband as an alternative. A public utility would be compelled by the citizenry to avoid the errors other cities make in dealings with large corporations. 

Corporations are not automatically required to provide universal service. Those that have not will continue to get less, and where Google, Comcast, and CenturyLink have contracts with cities to provide service they have fallen short.

(Here is an excerpt.)

Portland's being a pushover to snag Google Fiber | Seattle Times Newspaper

If there really is a crisis, and broadband has become a critical service on par with water and electricity, cities should consider providing the service directly as a public utility.

Perhaps it's also time for the federal government to classify broadband as an essential public service that must be available to everyone.

After phone lines were deemed an essential service, the government required companies to provide "universal service" so everyone was served.

Broadband was exempted from universal service requirements, support for which has eroded since telecom deregulation took hold in 1996.

With telecom companies in the driver's seat, and elected officials begging them for a ride, universal service seems off the table. It's treated as a dusty, antiquated concept that will impede progress and the arrival of sexy new products like Google Fiber.

Google Fiber is appealing and has plenty of cheerleaders on social media and at City Hall.

Yet Google is a mixed blessing. The majority of residents in any city would probably rather get broadband service from a public utility that's accountable to them, instead of from a fairly opaque company that makes its money delivering hypertargeted advertising.

Privacy concerns are offset by the prospect of a wealthy company stepping in to help address a complicated infrastructure challenge. Still it's a business, not a gift, and city officials should push to make sure all of their residents benefit from the deals they make.

That's not going to happen in Portland, apparently. As it has in other cities, Google is retaining the right to pick and choose which neighborhoods get wired and which are left behind.

This is couched in clever, Google-y terms — the service is coming first to "fiberhoods" that express interest in the service.

But the effect is to pit neighborhoods against each other and enable the company to cherry-pick lucrative pockets of a city where people are willing to pay $70 a month or more for broadband.

This approach is also tilted in favor of residents and neighborhoods that are already the most tech savvy. They'll get service first — and perhaps exclusively — because they can best use the Internet to call attention to themselves.