I am not a techie. When I started this blog what I had in mind was writing about the built environment, but more and more our cities are defined by technology. I had heard about Google possibly installing a fiber optic network in LA. This could allow area residents to download data with amazing speed, but at the moment it seems to be just speculation. Then I came across this article about Google making a deal with Austin, Texas to bring fiber optic to them.
The article makes some pretty broad claims about Google’s intentions. I was skeptical. So I sent the link to my nephew, Morgan, in Santa Cruz, who is a techie. Here’s an excerpt of what he had to say:
I’m not so sure Google is planning to takeover. They might, but only if they think they can significantly improve service. I think for them the ideal case is that the existing ISPs just upgrade their service, currently the problem is that all the ISPs have more or less realized it’s easier to just make incremental upgrades as opposed to laying new infrastructure. There’s been severe stagnation because ISPs have a lot of power. Because of that, US internet is way behind.
Google wants everyone to have high speed internet because that increases their ad revenue, but it probably doesn’t make much of a difference to them whose internet service it is. From what I’ve read, these services are likely breaking even at best, since it’s a lot more expensive for them to lay new infrastructure. Therefore, Google’s probably hoping that by threatening ISPs with this service, they’ll push them to lay new infrastructure so that Google won’t have to. If the ISPs don’t get with it, they might just end up taking over, but I doubt that’s really what they want to do.
He also sent me this link from Wired. The premise of the article is that government needs to get out of the way and let ISPs build what they want.
I don’t buy all of the author’s arguments. The idea that government should just step back and let business take over is called into question by recent history. You can look at the Enron debacle in California, where the state’s Democratic legislature let the energy giant write its own ticket. Enron proceeded to steal billions of dollars from California consumers, and there are numerous other examples of this kind of abuse. But he gives an interesting breakdown of the challenges that companies have to face when dealing with city government.
Lastly, a brief article from Maximum PC about a small town that did install its own fiber optic network and is doing quite well.
I have no idea where all this is going. My grasp of this stuff is pretty tenuous. But it seems clear that cities, especially major cities that want to attract business, will need to create this kind of tech infrastructure if they want to be competitive. The future is here.