As three dozen people rattle into the gymnasium at Lakeview Elementary in Provo, they are buzzing with questions. "When will I get free Internet?" "Will you provide telephone service ?" "Do I have to pay for installation?" And peppered among the heavy coated Provo residents, curious about what channels they will get, are blazer wearing Google engineers, public relations experts and image consultants. They are pleasant, knowledgeable, and patient...to a point.
Last week Provo city announced Google would swoop in and take over the city's troubled fiber network. An aging infrastructure, that the city built 10 years ago with much fan-fair, but the thing never made any money, and with a 20-30 million dollar bond hanging around the city's neck, the Fiber is now strangling Provo.
Google will pay $1 for the system and the city will still have to pay for the bond, but the internet colossus will upgrade the system and offer free internet to all Provo residents for at least 7 years. Google will also offer a gig of internet service for $70. A gig, is about 1000 times faster than regular internet.
Google is a company unlike any the world has ever seen, and when people think about "big business," they don't couple Google in with those meanies at Exxon, or Goldman Sachs. Google is "one of the good guys," Google helps me book my flights, order boots on line, and tells me how old Tony Romo is. We've all heard about the ping pong tables and massages at Google headquarters, their mission statement says, "don't be evil." I mean, how could you not love these guys.
The head of Community Affairs for Google, Matt Dunne represents all of that, he is affable, funny, and smart. He has the polished exterior of a Vermont politician, because, well, that's what he is. Dunne served 4 terms in the Vermont House of Representatives, and ran for governor in 2010, after his loss, he became a Googler, that's what Google employees call themselves.
When I interview Dunne after the meeting, he folds his hands in front of his waist, and stares with uncomfortable confidence into my eyes. His answers are precise, practiced, and as you might imagine, always "on message," as they say in the public relations game.
During the question and answer period, the day before the city council is to vote on handing the fiber over to Google, the public relations team, including Dunne, is pleasant, happy and congenial, when they get to talk about the company and all the great options for the residents. When the questions get a little tougher, like: "What if Google decided to abandon the system?" or "Why is this company with bottomless pockets only paying a dollar for a 20 million dollar network?" The are not so pleasant. "That's just, just the way it is," says Dunne,coolly, forcefully, yet politely.
Google is well on their way to becoming the most powerful company in the history of the world. They own just about everything on the web including your Gmail, Youtube, and the website Blogger, which publishes this blog. Google now wants to own the infrastructure that delivers the internet, hence, the purchase of Provo's system.
The company archives ever website on the web, and if you have Gmail, they scan each message you send and receive, for personal data, the company says to create relevant text ads for each user. The company was recently fined when it was discovered their Google mapping cars where collecting data about users as they take pictures of your street.
In the meeting, Mayor John Curtis, seems absolutely giddy as he praises the company in front of the crowd of about 50 people, as Dunne and the other Googlers, smile humbly. Mayor John Curtis, wasn't in charge when the system was established, and he may have found the very best way to untangle the city, at least partly, from the constricting fiber line.
Dunne receives another slightly uncomfortable question from a plain but pleasant mom, she says she likes the service the city is providing, and she doesn't want to pay extra for a gig she says she won't use. Dunne, squeezes his lips tightly together, and blinks impatiently, "well," he says, as he shakes his head, "there are, of course, other internet providers out there," he smiles as he points to another hand raised in the audience. "I'm not saying that, I mean," she stammers, eager to be back in Google's good graces. It's as if she realizes, she may be a resident of Provo, but she lives in Google's world.