It’s no secret that Big Tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google wanted Joe Biden to win the election — and they were surely willing to use their unprecedented corporate power to help make it happen.
While their most infamous contribution to the Biden campaign’s success may have been Facebook and Twitter’s censorship and throttling of the New York Post’s exposé on the Biden family’s shady business dealings, Google was arguably the most zealous and effective in putting a Democrat in the White House.
A widely-read report published by Robert Epstein, a behavioral scientist with a Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard, suggested that Google may have swung 2.6 million votes to Hillary Clinton in 2016 due solely to its biased search results. And while that wasn’t enough in 2016 to stop a Trump win, the search giant only amped up its efforts in the intervening years before the 2020 election.
The Wall Street Journal reported on how Google manually manipulates search results. Mike Wacker, a former Google engineer turned whistleblower, detailed many of these efforts and suggested that CEO Sundar Pichai may have lied to Congress when he claimed, “We don’t manually intervene on any particular search result.” Google has also blacklisted conservative news sites and banned conservative content creators from YouTube.
Given Google’s monopoly on Internet search and its ability to shape public opinion, the tech giant’s suppression of speech and expression in the digital public square clearly amounts to election interference. And it is hard to argue that it didn’t play a role in determining the election’s outcome.
Epstein suggested Google swung millions of votes in 2016, but Joe Biden won by just 43,000 votes in 2020 when counting the margins in Wisconsin (20,700), Georgia (11,800), and Arizona (10,500). If just one third of one percent of voters in those states had switched their votes, Trump would be in the Oval Office right now.
So why would Google make such a concerted effort to swing the election? Perhaps it was done out of ideological fealty to Democrats. A leaked video of a post-2016 election company struggle session showed Google co-founder Sergey Brin suggesting that the company consider promoting “better quality of governance and decision-making” in the United States, presumably by adjusting their product to help Democrats win elections.
But there is plenty of evidence that Google’s interest in the election outcome was also about business, and there’s one immediate opportunity on the horizon for Biden to remove some of the red from his ledger.
Google already monopolizes search, the most powerful service riding over broadband networks. But what if they could control a huge swath of the underlying infrastructure itself and harvest the data that comes with that control? As Axios recently reported, Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, which includes significant spending on broadband infrastructure, “revives a Google dream.”
In 2010, Google initially launched this dream in the form of Google Fiber, which was intended to disrupt the Internet access market by delivering fiber optic-based broadband across the country. But the reality failed to live up to the hype. Today, Google Fiber only operates in a handful of cities, covering less than one percent of the U.S. population, and it has been five years since the company broke ground on a new fiber project.
As John Burchett, head of policy for Google Fiber admitted, “One of the things we’ve learned is building infrastructure is long, slow, extraordinarily expensive, and fundamentally different than writing code for a new Google product. We may have started this process with a little bit of naïveté about how quickly we could impact the world.”
Yes, laying fiber is extraordinarily expensive — it can reportedly cost upwards of around $20,000 just for one mile. Even a trillion-dollar corporation like Google might balk at that price tag. But what if Google could get taxpayers to pay for the infrastructure, and then hand the keys over to the tech giant? That’s where the Biden administration’s spending spree might come in handy.
The Biden infrastructure plan prioritizes funding for “broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives.” Having government control of Internet infrastructure has long been a goal of the left, which is why Soros-funded groups with Orwellian names like “Free Press” have pushed it for decades. But government-run broadband networks have a horrendous track record. Cities across the country have saddled taxpayers with debt, raised electricity prices to offset losses, and failed to deliver on the proposed benefits of government-run broadband. Often, cities end up selling their networks to private providers at a huge loss, leaving taxpayers holding the bag.
That’s what happened in Provo, Utah, where the city spent $39 million building a network that went belly up. They sold the network to Google for just one dollar, a steal for the tech giant, which now operates a network that was funded in large part by taxpayers who are still paying off that debt. And Provo isn’t the only place where taxpayers have picked up the tab for Google’s ambitions.
The tech giant has pursued sweetheart deals in various cities — $57 million worth of infrastructure in Huntsville, Alabama, free rent and utilities in Kansas City, below-market rates for “fiber huts” in San Antonio. For a company that earned $55.3 billion in the first quarter of 2021, its history of shifting its costs to taxpayers is particularly shameless.
Despite all the goodies and favors from taxpayers, the company still couldn’t fulfill its dream, but the Biden spending spree could absolutely change that. The American Rescue Plan, passed earlier this year, allocated $350 billion to cities and states that can be used for broadband and other infrastructure projects. Unsurprisingly, the Treasury department’s guidance on that funding encourages government-run networks.
Then there’s the proposed bipartisan infrastructure deal, which would add another $65 billion specifically for broadband, and several of the Senators negotiating that deal have already shown their preference for government-run networks in the form of the BRIDGE Act, which could be the starting point of any negotiations on how to allocate broadband funding in a federal infrastructure package. Then there’s the FCC, USDA, NTIA, and a slew of agencies and programs that spend money on broadband every year.
With so much money flowing, and so much preference for government-run networks from the Biden administration, you can bet that Google will be waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces when a city-run network fails. And Google, emboldened by this state of affairs, is already up to its old tricks.
Google Fiber’s first new project in years will be in West Des Moines, Iowa. The company struck a deal where the city will spend $40 million in taxpayer funds to build fiber conduit and give temporary exclusive rights to the conduit to Google Fiber. The naked corruption of giving Google favorable treatment and first-mover advantages in publicly-funded infrastructure has earned the city a lawsuit from a broadband provider already operating in West Des Moines. But given Google’s track record, we can expect they won’t be deterred from pursuing these deals in more cities.
While the Biden administration has talked a big game about reigning in the power of Big Tech, their approach to infrastructure could see Google become even more powerful — controlling not just the essential services that Americans use on the Internet, but the Internet itself. And given Google’s egregiously bad privacy practices, do we really want to provide them with yet another sensitive window — at the network layer — into the lives of Americans?
Combine that with the company’s history and willingness to censor conservative voices on its platforms, putting them in charge of Internet infrastructure becomes even more worrying for free speech.
Is this a Quid Pro Joe? It sure looks like it. While it is nothing new to pay back the companies who help put you in office, in this case would seem particularly hypocritical. In one breath, the Biden administration says it is cracking down on the power of Big Tech. In another, it is encouraging billions of dollars in subsidies to help an absurdly powerful company revive a failed boondoggle and gain a significant share in yet another market. Sounds like a pretty good deal for both sides.
Jon Schweppe is the director of policy and government affairs at American Principles Project. Follow him on Twitter @JonSchweppe.
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