Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sows’ Ears and Silk Purses - Council Member Hal Miller

In retrospect the idealistic launch of the city-owned fiber network a decade ago was admirable if freighted.  The ideal was futuristic—a community in which every resident could opt for access to a super-fast network by which to be informed of matters large and small, in-the-city and out, and, in turn, to inform the city’s government about issues of concern.  Such ease and extension of high-speed interactivity seemed to promise new styles of citizenship and levels of civic awareness that could be transformative.

The network’s launch was not decided by popular ballot.  Instead it took life by fiat and a $39M bond issue. Optimism ran high that its popularity would assure repayment of the bond and then some, providing an appreciable, ongoing revenue source for the municipal budget.  After all, what loyal Provo resident wouldn’t pay for phone, internet, and television access from the city’s own service?

Without mentioning names, the number of those who didn’t was legion.  Some carped that the city-as—nonprofit-corporation competing with the for-profit variety was unfair.  Others worried that the quality of customer service would be sub-par.  The state legislature weighed in on the former matter, the market on the latter.

The fate of the network in the interim has been checkered at best.  In and out of the hands of private owners, bedeviled by lapses of service, subscription, and marketing, last year the network landed back in the city’s lap as its owner, this time legally labeled a public utility and thus eligible for fees.  They first appeared on utility bills last fall, labeled “Telecom,” which is short for “Learning our lesson the hard way and now having to finish paying off the bond” fee.

When the fiber network initially was installed, something momentous was taking shape in Silicon Valley.  Google came into being with its corporate leitmotif of “faster” and motto of “do no harm.”  Who knew the now-storied internet behemoth eventually would find its way to Provo?  Answer: The city’s fiber network was the charm.  When Google came calling, the municipal administration rightly was ravished.  The details were hush-hush at the suitor’s insistence, but the marriage was announced as “epic” and brought overnight celebrity to our fair city.

Sold for a dollar, the network will receive a deserved and costly remake.  Finally it will become available to every residence and on terms that can be described as generous indeed.  What it will assure is high-speed access under every residential roof, and for an added fee, dazzlingly high-speed.  Provo has become certifiedly faster.  A brave new world awaits it.

In recognition of this epochal event, I offer the following lines:

Faster Provo
                                                                The fibers are coming!
                                                                Sure enough, they reached to our neighborhood.
                                                                The cables that carried them were unassuming—
                                                                No bright colors, no transparency,
                                                                No outer emanation to signal the inner aura.

                                                                Then came the “drop”,
                                                                And we became a fibered family.
                                                                iProvo was now available, if shaky, 
Then later reincarnated--
                                                                Nuvont, Veracity, iProvo anew.

                                                                The fiber had a way of turning deep red.
                                                                I was there when the mayor
                                                                Announced, er, um, a bailout—
                                                                Nested there in the utility bill,
                                                                Hardly welcome—the dues on integrity.

                                                                We are a debt-averse people.
                                                                Searches for buyers languished.
                                                                How much for a fast-aging system?
                                                                Nada.  Rebonding?  No thanks.
                                                                Where was rescue?

                                                                The system savior entered epically.
                                                                With utmost silence at first, then—
                                                                Hurrah!  No turning off the light.
                                                                Instead, our family’s drop promises added instantaneity,
                                                                Google-goosed.  Faster and faster.

Hal Miller
Provo City Municipal Council Member
May 2013

Related Reading

Carr, N. (2011). The shallows:  What the internet is doing to our brains. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

Gleick, J. (2000). Faster. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

Mayer-Schonberger, V. & Cukier, K. (2013). Big data: A revolution that will reshape how we live, work and think.
Boston, MA: Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Schmidt, E., & Cohen, J. (2013). The new digital age: Reshaping the future of people, nations and
                business.  New York, NY:  Knopf.

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