There is no quicker way to descend from the cloud than to look in on an old-fashioned, down-to-earth dispute about money and power. Such was the case when the veteran New York Times reporter James Glanz, known for his work as Baghdad bureau chief and for an investigative history of the World Trade Center (Glanz and Lipton 2004), arrived in the town of Quincy in central Washington to do a story on cloud-computing data centers. There he found a dispute between a computer giant and a small power company. Now, this was no ordinary big computer company-it
was Microsoft, the business that, in the minds of many, saved the state of Washington from the fate of other declining industrial regions by setting up its headquarters there rather than in Silicon Valley. In 2006 Microsoft decided to expand by buying seventy-ﬁve acres of an old bean farm and building a data center to support its cloud services. The company was drawn by the abundance of hydroelectric power produced by generators operated from the nearby Columbia River. It was also attracted by utility rates priced, thanks to its effective lobbying, at less than half the national average, which brought a reliable ﬂow of power made possible by dams along the river, including two operated by the local power company. Finally, Microsoft sought and received generous tax breaks from the state because it paid property taxes to the town, helping to pave roads and build a new library for Quincy’s 6,900 residents. The head of the power company summarized a general feeling when the company came to town: “You’re talking about one of the largest corporations. You’re talking Microsoft and Bill Gates. Wow!” (Glanz 2012a).