Can we Google that?

Will Raymond mentioned at the Town Council public hearing Monday night that Google Fiber would bring benefits to Chapel Hill that we can’t see right now. He’s right about that. But he didn’t mention that those benefits will come at a cost in privacy and how much marketers and the government know about us.

The town wants to be a test market for the initiative to speed up Web connections. Everybody’s in favor of this one – council members, residents, even the mayor of Carrboro, Mark Chilton, spoke to the council in favor of the effort. Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today? Video-conferencing in 3D? Download a high-def film in less than 5 minutes? Instant access to the Internet? The idea that software may disappear? The potential benefits are heady stuff.

Before we all gather around the video monitor to celebrate, let’s remember that Google Fiber is an initiative by the search engine giant to get into the Internet Service Provider business. Google seems to agree with the FCC, which views slow connectivity as a detriment to economic growth. The FCC has proposed to make the United States “the world’s largest market of high-speed broadband users,” and Google is right there to help — the market, that is. Let’s keep that word “market” always in mind as we ooh and aah at the prospects, because there will be a price for all this wonderful connectivity.

Chapel Hill wants Google to build and test its network here. Asheville, Greensboro, Durham, Winston-Salem and Raleigh also want Google to choose them. Duluth, Minn., Huntsville, Ala., and Fresno, Calif., also are vying to tip Google in their favor. More than 100 communities across the United States have declared their wish to be anointed by Google, according to Stiff competition.

As council member Laurin Easthom pointed out at the public hearing, we’re shovel-ready because of a state Department of Transportation initiative to run fiber to each of the town’s 100-plus signalized traffic intersections. All Google would have to do is get its fiber to the doors of households.

Raymond was right about one thing – the town must enter into this with its eyes wide open. And getting every household connected to the Internet can be a blessing, that’s for sure. But this is the same community that balked at the intrusiveness of red-light cameras. Google Fiber could be a whole new take on Big Brother, because let’s not forget, Google is doing this as a business venture and there will be a cost.

The competitive application is due March 26. Go to the town’s Web site to get more information and decide whether to lend your name to the petition.
–Don Evans

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  1. Thanks Don for the post. I apologize if I wasn’t clear but I did bring up that we should be concerned about privacy, security and open access.

    Google’s desire to monetize folks by analyzing surfing habits is a major concern. Google collects petabytes of profiling data on its users. It has resisted revealing how much data it collects, how it uses it internally, who it sells it to, how long it will be retained, what legal protections – if any – it offers to shield folks from intrusive government fishing expeditions.

    Google helped build China’s “Great Wall” – censoring content which offended China’s regime – much of which details China’s profligate human rights abuses, militarism and corruption. Google has been implicated in “outing” Chinese dissidents for many years. Recently two dissidents were discovered by Chinese operatives, possibly using what security expert Bruce Schneier surmises was a backdoor in GMail engineered to assist the United States’s National Security Agency in domestic and international spying.

    These are just a few examples of where Google diverges from its corporate pledge to “do no evil”.

    Still, Google is offering us a fantastic opportunity – one we should pursue with eyes wide open – fully cognizant of their past problems.

    In either case, going with Google or deploying our own broadband (like Wilson but with a 3rd party running the show), the community should insist that security, privacy and openness are key requirements.

  2. Terri Buckner

     /  March 16, 2010

    It’s not just privacy that we need to be concerned about with the Google proposal–it’s also cost. From what I’ve been able to find about this competition, Google has not been very forthcoming with the real details, like how much cash the town have to match, how much would it cost individual households monthly, which ISP would handle the actual day-to-day operations, etc. When something looks too good to be true, it should be pursued with a very skeptical eye.

  3. Terri, well said. This is a great opportunity but one in which we want to be clear on expected benefits, costs and trade-offs. Bringing a little caution to the table is not “dissing” the deal, as one local pols husband puts it, but making sure the community is served (for those who think any level of caution is unnecessary, let me refer you to the Town’s soon to be disastrous Lot #5 private/public partnership).