Google’s Fiber Roll-Out Can Be Evil
Google’s Fiber Roll-Out Can Be Evil
Prof. Robert Proctor
Department of Mathematics
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
May 24, 2016
Google’s motto was “Don’t be evil.” But the rushed nature of the roll-out of its fiber-into-homes project can have adverse long-term impacts on communities: An intrinsic consequence of Google’s rules for this roll-out has at times been, and will continue to be, the pilfering of land from city parks and greenspaces and the degradation of the surrounding areas by noise.
To attain domination of its choice markets as soon as possible, Google has crafted requirements that will quickly give it sites for its internet relay hubs.
Since it is the towns that control zoning laws and building permits, Google Fiber will partner only with municipal governments: It will not partner with utility and school districts.
Cooperation between local governmental entities might not be fast, and the acquisition of private land would be slow.
Thus Google allows partner towns to nominate only town-owned tracts for hub sites.
Since towns do not own very many tracts, parks and greenspaces often get nominated.
To avoid delays from neighborhood opponents, Google will tend to choose the park on the poor side of town.
And for optimal network design, Google will also tend to choose the most centrally located nominations.
These will tend to be in most densely populated (and often the poorest) parts of a town.
These parts tend to be the areas where parklands and green spaces are rare and are of the highest value.
Going forward, at some point it is easy to imagine an ideally located oily school bus maintenance yard that does not get used as a site: Google will not know about it, since it is owned by the school district.
Instead, their hub will take a bite out of a nearby humble park, on the “other” side of the tracks.
The acoustic environment of the surrounding area will be degraded with the noise from their 24/7 cooling machinery and the weekly tests of their back-up generator.
The Sierra Club can help us attain our
Nationwide Social Justice Goal
The Sierra Club was founded to facilitate the formation of parks. Recently it has made the providing of equal access to parks and green spaces to all economic classes a priority. It is hoped that this report can lead to the following development: The Sierra Club headquarters staff member in San Francisco who has oversight of city parks would call Google’s vice president for public relations in Mountain View to discuss the synopsis above. Once those in Google who are responsible for their corporate public image have discussed this situation, Google should be willing to reform its fiber optic roll-out program by making the following two pledges:
(1) To not use parks and the most valued urban green spaces for hub sites, and
(2) To allow partner towns to nominate tracts that are owned by utility or school districts and by county governments.
Once the Board of Aldermen of the Town of Carrboro had realized in hindsight how Google’s siting rules and its pressure to rush the siting process there had led to an opaque hub siting process and a subsequent lousy site choice, on May 17 it stated its intention to soon pass a resolution suggesting to Google that it should consider adopting these policy revisions.
Communities need to address other issues when siting decisions are made, beyond the preservation of green spaces.
Given the growing importance of internet connections, security and reliability issues are discussed below: The availability of more tracts via (2) above would enable towns to give weight to these concerns.
Google Fiber has more in common with Über and Air B&B than it does with AT&T Fiber
For practical purposes, AT&T fiber will be as fast as Google fiber. However, AT&T’s fiber program has been acquiring hub sites and rights-of-way by working with localities according to established rules. Google Fiber is following in the footsteps of its rich Silicon Valley brethren such as Über and Air B&B: These powerfully funded new ventures launched their commercial activities in communities without regard to established rules. Given the new nature of the models introduced by Über and Air B&B, localities were forced to develop new sets of rules. But the nature of the connections provided by Google Fiber is no different than the nature of the connections that telephone companies have created for 100 years: copper strands are merely being replaced with glass strands. Nonetheless, towns that participate in the Google Fiber roll-out program are re-purposing parkland to give Google a commercial advantage over its rivals (who are playing by the rules.)
Speed-over-quality is a fundamental part of Silicon Valley culture.
The managers of the Google fiber roll-out probably do not live in the community, and they are probably earning bonuses for quick completions.
They have no incentive to give weight to concerns of the community.
In contrast, because of the long term (or permanent) ramifications of land-use decisions, such decisions are made with deliberation.
Building a relay facility on green space converts that land from a natural to an industrial state.
After land lines disappear, the security and reliability of internet hubs will have increased importance.
Once a radial network has been built out, relocating its hub can be difficult.
For these reasons, it would be in the best interest of communities it wishes to serve if Google Fiber were to begin to respect standard land-use practices (such as public hearings), and to refrain from pressuring governments to adopt its Silicon Valley modalities.
Raleigh Park Hub; Carrboro Model shows how lousy a site choice can be
Although Google Fiber has been launched in only a handful of metro areas, a hub has already been completed in a park in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Town of Carrboro is the leftist “hippie” portion of the college town Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Carrboro went for Bernie “people over profits” Sanders as strongly as any other southeastern town, and its planning department is known statewide for its deliberate review of commercial projects. After Google Fiber seduced the town’s planning staff and pressured them to provide an expedited siting process, the resulting hasty siting process produced a foolish choice.
After partnering with Google, the staff crafted a new portion of the zoning law so that no public hearing would be needed for the issuance of the hub’s zoning permit: Such facilities would not need a public hearing if they were were under 15′ in height; the Google hub building is 13′ high, and such buildings would not need a hearing if they were were under 500 square feet; the Google hub building is 420 square feet. After there was no public participation in the siting process, the Town of Carrboro leased part of its cemetery land to Google for 0.1% of Google’s anticipated eventual subscription fees. The Bechtel Corporation razed the trees on the site and began construction before most of the residents on adjoining lots knew what was happening. (The most-informed neighbors did not know until six days before the Monday razing that this land would be used for a Google hub, and even these few people did not know that a permit had actually been issued until the prior Friday evening.) It soon became known that a superior site would have been available all along, located in the center of the already-industrialized public water utility plant next to the cemetery. But Google was not aware of this site since that utility is not directly owned by Carrboro, being a run as a partnership with the Town of Chapel Hill.
The unused wooded portion of the cemetery land on which the hub is being built is adjacent to a large beautiful meadow, which is too rocky for graves. Not only will the noise from the 24/7 operation of cooling machinery and from the weekly tests of the back-up generator despoil the tranquility of this meadow, it should also be audible to many graveside mourners and possibly the annual Methodist Easter Sunrise services. This meadow is in center of the most densely populated part of Carrboro. It is the only public green space distinctly south of Main Street; all of the significant parks in Carrboro are located north of Main Street.
Land use decisions are difficult to make because there are a multitude of advantages and disadvantages for the competing options. But in this Carrboro model case, there are no known drawbacks for the community if this Google hub were to be moved to the OWASA water plant campus from the cemetery land. Moreover, there would be many advantages to Google as well as to the community if the hub were located on OWASA.
Land use decisions are made deliberately, as noted above. Although most of the content in this report has been available to the local Google project personnel for a month, they have refused our requests to pause their construction while a belated public review can take place. Since our concerns were raised, they have accelerated their construction by now working on Saturdays. This acceleration highlights the sole reason for the siting of this hub on this jewel of a green space: Nothing is more important to Google than the speed with which this hub can be activated. Their pressure for speed was the cause that no public input was solicited, and the limiting of the number of minds at work here to three town staff members meant that the OWASA idea never came forth. Google’s insistence on a hasty and careless expedited siting process has been the root of all of the evil in this model case.
Bay Area real estate prices manifest the concentration of capital in Silicon Valley. This capital will push a stream of commercial initiatives into localities: Tesla recharging stations, self-driving cars, etc. An important question for the quality of life in communities will be: Where will the promulgators of these initiatives fall on a Myer-Briggs scale of humility-to-arrogance?
Reliability and Security should be given weight during siting decisions
Google’s Wealth, Cute Image, Glamor, Seductive Powers, Bribes
Zoning Law Context and Details for Carrboro, NC
Cemetery Green Space Details for Carrboro, NC