Google Should Take Its Broadband to Failing Cities, Not Happy Ones

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Wouldn't it be great if Google installed its gigabit broadband network in cities that could really use the help?

Instead of holding a beauty pageant, in which cities such as Topeka and Duluth, can nominate themselves and find novel ways to get the company's attention, perhaps Google should do its own research and choose cities that would most benefit from a bandwidth boost.

Google likes to tout the idea that expanding Internet access--both in its reach and speed--would improve business and job opportunities. This is part

of the rationale for its experimental network, intended to serve from 50,000 to 500,000 people across multiple cities.

I'm offering Google the chance to prove the impact superfast Internet could have. This project could also help Google change its corporate mantra from "Don't Be Evil" to the more optimistic, "Do Good."

Here's my proposal: Google should install its gigabit network in places like Cleveland; Stockton, California; Memphis, Tennessee; Detroit; and Flint, Michigan. Last month, these five cities, in that order, were ranked as the "Most Miserable" cities in America by Forbes magazine.

I'm thinking that a superfast network could improve the business environment in these places, help education, create new jobs, and provide entertainment for the presumably miserable residents. Won't solve their problems, but certainly might help.

Living about halfway between second-ranked Stockton--which was 2009's "winner"--and 11th-ranked Modesto, I can assure you that both places could use any help Google might offer.

Forbes ranks cities on a variety measures of beyond the traditional "misery index" of unemployment and taxes. The magazine included 250 metro areas in its calculations.

"Our Misery Measure takes into account unemployment, as well as eight other issues that cause people anguish. The metrics include taxes (both sales and income), commute times, violent crime, and how its pro sports teams have fared over the past two years," the magazine said.

"We also factored in two indexes that gauge weather and Superfund pollution sites. Lastly, we considered corruption based on convictions of public officials in each area as tracked by the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice."

One potential problem is Forbes' use of metro areas of 245,000 population or more in its calculations. While Google cannot be expected to take fiber optic cable to every home and business in Detroit, the Forbes' data could certainly help Google discover some equally miserable smaller cities, perhaps in the suburbs of the larger ones.

Another problem, as I've already discussed, is what happens when Google leaves? Will the "lucky" cities chosen for Google's experiment end up stuck with a network that everyone loves, but can't afford without Google's help?

If that happens to any city, it's something Forbes might want to figure into some future "Misery Measure."

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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