Brenda Cooper

Broadband: How We Thirst

 As many of you know, I have other hats besides writer/speaker/futurist.  I work for a city as the Chief Information Officer, or CIO.  That means I’m responsible for all of the phones and computers and communications – people and budgets and decisions.

We are one of many cities competing to have Google choose our community to build a new high-speed internet connection.  Cities have renamed themselves.  Some city leaders have jumped in freezing water, and others have given streets new (temporary) monikers. 

I am amazed at the energy going into this.   There are probably thousands of cities competing for this slim chance.  We’re doing it in a recession, and spending taxpayer time and effort that we really don’t have.  We’re closing city hall some days. Staff has taken pay cuts.   The same things are true for most local governments all across the country.  But we, and many other recession-ravaged cities, are finding time to do this anyway.

If you assume low figures of two hundred hours per city times a thousand cities, that’s two hundred thousand taxpayer hours (about a hundred man-years of effort) being spent to sell our cities to a multinational for an experiment.  And I think my numbers might be an order of magnitude low.

This doesn’t mean that all of us cities are crazy.  It means we’re thirsty.  We know how true broadband could be a powerful enabler, how it might mean more effective health care and better business and brand new ways to do things.   This is true even for cities like mine where we do have multiple providers.  That’s because none of the current players are running open networks with high speeds up and down the pipe, and designing to encourage innovation.  Existing providers are building profits in trade for delivering entertainment that we’re happy to buy.  But this technology could so so much more, and we know it.

Our citizens are almost all supporting us and many of them are writing in to Google to support the communities they live in.  They are thirsty, too.

I wish us all luck in this competition.  But given that it will be water to a tiny fraction of a the country at best, I hope this thirst is recognized by a broader audience than Google.  I hope it is heard as the country debates the FCC’s new plan and eventually takes up network neutrality (which we must preserve, or even more people and businesses will die without access).

We should take this as a marching order from the people to the government as much as we should take it as a number of governments selling themselves to Google.