Home First a Data Center, Now Free WiFi: Google, The Cloud and the Significance of a Small Oregon Town

First a Data Center, Now Free WiFi: Google, The Cloud and the Significance of a Small Oregon Town

Google is giving a small town in Oregon $100,000 for free Wi-Fi. It’s a town called The Dalles – a community with an interesting significance for Google.

The Dalles is a city of 12,000 people along the Columbia River, about 80 miles east of Portland. Google owns a massive data center there. It’s a key Google operation, that’s powered by the cheap hydroelectricity that comes from a dam on the Columbia. Twin cooling towers stand four-stories high, keeping the servers from overheating as they continually crunch data and serve it back to millions of people online.

This data center in The Dalles is what helps make Google’s cloud computing capabilities a reality. Sure, it’s connected to data centers around the world. But this one has special significance, In some ways, it symbolizes the emergence of the cloud computing era.

The prospect of a data center in The Dalles had national significance. In 2005, Congress changed energy legislation so the Bonneville Power Administration, which runs the dam, would not be privatized. That meant BPA’s electricity prices would stay low. With that in place, Google went ahead with construction, knowing it could burn as much power as it needed to keep its servers humming.

In that year, Harper’s Magazine published blueprints of the data center. The magazine used the diagrams as the center piece in a profile of Google and its quest for cheap electricity, and the emergence of cloud computing. In June of 2006, the New York Times ran a front page story about the data center. The headline: “Hiding in Plain Sight, Google Seeks More Power.” It, too, used the data center to tell a story about Google’s strategy and its lead in cloud computing over rivals like Microsoft and Yahoo!

Today, The Dalles and its free Wi-Fi from Google has some interesting correlations to another announcement this week pertaining to Google’s efforts in creating an ultra-fast broadband network.

This effort to provide broadband service to select cities is certainly designed to show what kind of opportunities come when people get an Internet connection that is 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today. It’s the kind of effort that makes sense as Google seeks to offer a whole new generation of applications that would be available in the cloud.

As the New York Times points out:

“In Google’s vision of the future of the Internet, the live streaming of 3-D medical images from a rural health clinic to a specialized medical center or the downloading of a full-length movie in a matter of minutes would become commonplace.”

Google is only providing cash in the form of a grant to The Dalles for the Wi-Fi. It is not providing the kind of Internet access that will go to those who receive the ultra fast Internet connection. But The Dalles experiment does show Google’s interest in providing Internet access to rural communities.

There are some other interesting correlations:

Google made provisions with The Dalles that it would not be permitted to filter content. That’s a move we should also expect when Google lays its experimental fiber in cities around the country. Google alluded to this kind of spirit in its announcement this week:

“Openness and choice: We’ll operate an “open access” network, giving users the choice of multiple service providers. And consistent with our past advocacy, we’ll manage our network in an open, non-discriminatory and transparent way.”

Google gets final approval over the content and design of the splash page and the landing page for the free service in The Dalles. Will they seek that kind of control in other communities, too?

Google will also help get the network up and running in The Dalles. Accordingto Wi-Fi Net News, Mountain View, Calif. is the only other town where Google operates a Wi-Fi network. Google tried to launch a network in San Francisco but the effort failed.

Google also referred to Mountain View in its announcement this week about the fiber network:

“Like our WiFi network in Mountain View, the purpose of this project is to experiment and learn. Network providers are making real progress to expand and improve high-speed Internet access, but there’s still more to be done. We don’t think we have all the answers – but through our trial, we hope to make a meaningful contribution to the shared goal of delivering faster and better Internet for everyone.”

It’s a different task to lay fiber but The Dalles may serve as a miniature model for the complexities that come with developing a municipal network for accessing the Web.

In the meantime, it’s great to see a small Oregon town play such an interesting role in the development and future of Google, the most significant Internet company of our time.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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