Governments do not serve public by appeasing Google
Last Thursday, April 1, Google changed its name to Topeka for the day.
This tongue-in-cheek humor recognized one of the most absurd of a number of desperate attempts by cities across the nation to win Google’s contest for free high-speed broadband.
For the entire month of March, the city of Topeka, Kan. unofficially changed its name to Google. Topeka is not the only community to take extreme measures to draw the search giant’s attention. One city executive in Minnesota jumped into the freezing waters of Lake Superior to show his dedication. Another official promised in jest (we hope) to start naming babies after the company.
Here in Pittsburgh, there is a concerted “Pittsburgh Goes Google” movement. You probably received the official communication e-mail from President Cohon asking for your support. Perhaps you participated in the stunt to spell “Google” in the middle of Downtown.
Efforts like these draw laughter, but they also indicate a deeper concern. Google — a corporation with a responsibility to its shareholders, not the public — is exerting tremendous influence in American society. Local governments across the United States are going to extreme lengths to appease the company.
We are concerned that these actions end up serving private interests over those of the public.
Political lobbying by corporate entities is an established feature of American politics. Google’s lobbying budget exceeds $1 million. The role of lobbyists has been examined and criticized for decades, but the influence Google has on government today extends far beyond its teams of lawyers. Instead of Google lobbying city governments, these leaders are lobbying Google. We wonder how many resources are being used to appeal to Google that could be better used improving the lives of ordinary Americans.
There is no doubt that Google’s broadband initiative will do wonders wherever it is installed. But cities with Google mania overlook the company’s ultimate goal of profit. The private and public sectors do not share the same priorities.
While The Tartan appreciates the many innovations Google has brought to us, we believe that governments should be accountable to their constituents, not to a corporate giant.