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In a bid to woo Google, Palo Alto shared confidential utility information

Original post made on Feb 21, 2019

Newly released documents reveal that the city of Palo Alto, in its effort to join Google Fiber Cities program, provided the telecom giant with sensitive information about Palo Alto's transmission systems, manholes, infrastructure-maintenance plans and properties that the city had designated as confidential -- not just once but at least four times.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, February 21, 2019, 9:48 AM

Comments (20)

Posted by PhilB
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 21, 2019 at 11:23 am

PhilB is a registered user.

Why were these agreements not disclosed to the public at the time they were signed?

Posted by PhilB
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 21, 2019 at 11:23 am

PhilB is a registered user.

And, are there any more such confidential NDA agreemnts in place which have not yet been disclosed to the public?

Posted by Misguided DuBois
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 21, 2019 at 12:20 pm

Councilmember Dubois has pushed for his silly fiber network for years, and look where it has gotten us! Palo Alto has been talking about this for 30 years - enough already! let private companies do what they do best, and let the city government do what it does best.

Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 21, 2019 at 1:29 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

It is clearer now that the corporate behemoth reamed us for its purposes, with all too willing abetting from Emslie and Reichental.
Et tu, Dubois?

Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2019 at 2:10 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

Many people have asked what is wrong with city-owned fiber, and why do incumbent providers so much mistrust cities going into the fiber business, or developing a close relationship with one provider.

It is not that the incumbents fear competition. It is that they object to unfair competition.

Numerous cases have been reported of cities giving an unfair advantage to one provider, especially if it is the city itself. Information is provided without delay (often data that the incumbents were denied). Cities provide cross-subsidization, with monies from other projects used to support the cities' fiber installations. Permits and inspections are done instantly and to the benefit of the cities' construction efforts. The list goes on.

Councilmember Tom DuBois has been a long-time critic of our incumbent providers and has pushed for city-owned or affiliated systems for many years. While we should be very concerned at his efforts to support Google unfairly, (before they were even planning to come here), it should not be a surprise to us.

Google very cleverly positioned itself as the savior to everyone interested in excellent fiber. Many people were probably led astray by Google's charm campaign. It was reported that the aggregate amount of money spent trying to entice Google to come to the cities was more than the value of the installations Google provided.

The end result for Google was that they discovered it was a lot harder than they had thought, and they have essentially ended their bid to overtake the existing cable business.

Meanwhile, our incumbent providers keep making the investments in this community and doing the job for us, with little help from the city and certainly no thanks. The cellular companies that keep trying to install the new infrastructure that we need keep being greeted by complaints from consumers and little action from the city to move the agenda forward.

Tom DuBois owes the residents an apology for his behaviour in this matter, and the city should start to respect our incumbent providers a bit more.

Posted by Wilson R
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 21, 2019 at 3:29 pm

I find it highly suspicious that CM Dubois works for Google and was advocating for his company to build a network here in Palo Alto. Who knows what kind of information the city gave up to Google in his one-man-quest to have a city fiber network?

Posted by jh
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 21, 2019 at 3:58 pm

jh is a registered user.

Didn't the article state that this was quite a while before Dubois went to work for Google?

Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2019 at 8:17 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.


Yes, DuBois was not working for Google at the time. There is no reason to think that he was on the take or something.

Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 21, 2019 at 8:40 pm


Are you Bob Smith, former Cable Co-op Board Member?

If so, how do you reconcile your baseless accusations against Councilmember Tom DuBois and Google's fiber effort with your unabashed support for incumbents, including AT&T which purchased the Cable Coop?

Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2019 at 9:12 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.


Yes, I am that Bob Smith.

I am not quite sure what your question is but I will try to deal with both points.

1. Regarding Councilmember DuBois, I said that he has been a "long-time critic of our incumbent providers and has pushed for city-owned or affiliated systems for many years." His public record clearly supports this, and I think he would allow that this statement is accurate. Yes, I think he owes the community an apology for his part in allowing confidential city information to be transferred to Google. I am not sure I see why you call this "baseless", it seems pretty clear to me.

2. Regarding Comcast and AT&T, I support them because they are doing the job of providing us communication services. The city has been through about 5 attempts to get into the business and is yet to do much that is useful to average residents. Comcast is also improving all of the time, and is presently offering speeds and reliability that are state-of-the-art. If someone else comes along that meets my needs more appropriately, I will likely support them. If I had had to rely on the city for fast Internet, I wouldn't be getting much done at home.

I followed Google Fiber with great interest and have noted that they have failed utterly to show the industry how it should be done, which was their original goal, despite their obtaining huge city support for their projects as a result of their successful PR. Only in the last few weeks, they Google announced that they were shutting down their Louisville system completely owing to fundamental construction problems. It is a good thing that Comcast is still here.

Posted by Hendrik
a resident of University South
on Feb 21, 2019 at 10:01 pm

Glad to live in a city that is business-friendly and tries to get me fast internet. Why so much negativity about this?

Posted by Wayne Martn
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 22, 2019 at 11:16 am

Without knowing exactly what the City gave to Google, it's a little hard to comment on this.

However, we can ask: "Why didn't the City only provide this information under the proviso that if Google didn't choose Palo Alto for one of its "fiber cities" then all of the data/information would be destroyed?"

Interesting that two of the three City officials signing the NDA are no longer employees. Also interesting is that the City Attorney wasn't on the signatory list.

At the very least, the Council should demand some sort of briefing about the information provided to Google, and what the procedure might be which the City would follow in the future should a similar situation occur requiring the City provide data to a possible enterprise partner.

Posted by vmshadle
a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 22, 2019 at 12:05 pm

vmshadle is a registered user.

Why is bad judgment by government officials so fashionable all of a sudden? What about applying common sense, as in "If it sounds fishy, perhaps it smells fishy also?"

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 22, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Annette is a registered user.

PhilB asked, "Why were these agreements not disclosed to the public at the time they were signed?"

A mere week before this story ran there was a story titled "Why don't more people care about the stealing of their privacy". Do you suppose *they* thought the public didn't care?

I think some entities bank on people being too busy to notice until the problem is simply too big to ignore. And then it is often too late.

The dark side of technology strikes again!

Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 23, 2019 at 7:32 am

The problem here, and with so many situations like this is that information is safe, until it isn’t. In an information society where data, private data, is the coin of the realm, it is now too often exchanged, or compromised, or stolen by those entrusted to safeguard it. There are excuses - ‘we are just providing test data’ or ‘we have a NDA’ or ‘We were hacked’ but overall effect is that the data that defines us (our identities) and data that secures us (our accounts) is not being properly safeguarded. We don’t provide our city officials blanket rights to use information entrusted to it for providing electricity, for example, for any other cause, like fighting global warming or world peace initiatives or google experiments. The city should not be free to compromise this trust at will.

It’s a big deal. It’s a big problem when data is shared without consent. When you consider how many good and evil entities in the data food chain are out there hungry for your data, and for many reasons or causes, it becomes that much more essential that governments, even dinky governments like Palo Alto, safeguard the data they hold.

Posted by Jeff Hoel
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2019 at 2:50 pm

Thanks, Gennady, for the information. So, as early as 10-17-12, and probably earlier, City staff was working with Google to grease the skids for Google Fiber, while the public -- and possibly Council as well -- remained in the dark until Google's 02-19-14 announcement.

I urge people to read Susan Crawford's new book, "Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution -- and Why America Might Miss It." She talks about how America's approach to telecom has been failing us, but also about how some scrappy municipalities have stepped up and shown us what's possible. Web Link

As a teaser, check out Crawford's interview with MuniNetworks' Christopher Mitchell. Web Link

In Longmont, CO, residential users who signed up for municipal FTTP when it was first available in their neighborhoods get 1-Gbps (symmetrical) internet service for only $49.95 a month. Web Link

Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2019 at 9:55 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Jeff Hoel - So you are telling us Longmont has already raised it's prices 40% since they launched in 2014? How much higher before they recoup costs?

Posted by Jeff Hoel
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2019 at 3:44 pm

@john alderman -- As far as I know, Longmont's price for 1-Gbps (symmetrical) residential internet service has never been less than $49.95 per month. The price for people who failed to sign up soon enough used to be $99.95 per month, but that was reduced to $69.95 per month. And after the first twelve months, that drops to $59.95 per month. Web Link

According to a 09-09-16 article, Longmont's FTTP network is expected to break even in 2025. Web Link
The take rate is 53 percent. Web Link

Posted by Jeff Hoel
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2019 at 4:11 pm

@Misguided -- If you have evidence that Palo Alto has been talking about FTTP for 30 years (i.e., since 1989), cite it. On 08-05-96, when Council voted to deploy a dark fiber network (which, by the way, has been wildly successful), they hoped it would eventually lead to citywide FTTP, but so far, it hasn't. Web Link

Regarding the "what they do best" bromide, the City has a history of doing municipal utilities that are better than what the private sector offers. For example, the City's electricity is 100 percent carbon neutral, but costs about 40 percent less than PG&E's electricity costs (page 8).
Web Link

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 20, 2019 at 6:38 pm

Too bad internet prices are through the roof here. Comcast (Xfinity) means you are stuck with two-year contracts that double in price on top of another $50/mo for an unlimited data cap. We have one alternative - AT&T - which has no plans over 10mbps. Would love to see another competitor (Sonic, Google - wouldn't care at this point, as long as they disrupt Comcast). For example - for $35/mo for 60mbps doesn't sound too bad, until you realize after two years they jack the price up to $80/mo - and you're still limited in data use.

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