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Why Does Google Support Municipal Broadband?

May 18, 2016

small 1The Coalition for the New Economy has routinely argued that, if local governments get into the broadband market, they should do so as partners with the private sector, not as competitors.

Not all public-private partnerships are good for taxpayers and consumers, however, especially when they advantage one private provider over all other competitors. If municipal networks could lead to a government monopoly on broadband service, then a city giving special favors to one private provider over another could as well.

In April, Watchdog.Org explored the problem of giving special favors—or “corporate welfare”—to certain Internet Service Providers (ISPs). According to the website, Google Fiber and its supporters at Next Century Cities favor municipal broadband precisely because they know these systems are unsustainable and they can get a good deal on infrastructure when these networks fail.

According to Taxpayer Protection Alliance President David Williams, when cities can no longer finance their municipal networks, “Google comes in like a white knight” to save the system. Williams explains Google can buy “an otherwise pricey municipal broadband network for pennies on the dollar.” He argued this is exactly what happened in Provo, Utah where Google bought the city’s $39 million municipal broadband system for $1.

Williams said, “Google is not a good guy here … They’re building their success on the backs of taxpayers. It’s not an upfront handout, but it is backdoor corporate welfare.”

Watchdog said the Provo example might not be the only time Google benefits from a failed network. Indeed, “Williams thinks Google plans to replicate the Utah deal elsewhere.” Williams cited Huntsville, Ala., which has said it will Google use its city system instead of requiring the company to build its own infrastructure. Google is also exploring moving into Portland, Ore. and San Francisco, which both have municipal networks. The company has also received special regulatory breaks from Louisville, Ky.

As further evidence of his argument, Williams noted that Google support Next Century Cities, a nonprofit that lobbies for municipal broadband. Williams said, “[T]he only reason for Google to get involved with Next Century Cities is if there’s an economic benefit and, in this case, they get to use taxpayers to build out their business.”

Next Century Cities Executive Director Deb Socia acknowledged that Google is a donor.