During the Q&A session following Steve Jobs' pitch for a stunning new Apple campus to the Cupertino City Council, Councilwoman Kris Wang asked Jobs if the city of Cupertino would get "free Wi-Fi or something like that" in exchange for green-lighting the building project.
Jobs felt that free municipal Wi-Fi was something the city was better equipped to provide and that Apple paid plenty in property tax and if Apple "can get out of paying taxes, we would be glad to provide free Wi-Fi." The exchange drew a laugh from the audience, but an indignant Twitteronia was not pleased.
It's kind of peculiar that the request -- which was obviously not a sticking point for the Council -- drew such fire from observers. Local governments are perennially broke and routinely extort capital improvements from businesses seeking to do business in their community. "If you build that big office park, you need to buy us new fire truck to cover the area adequately." It happens all the time, just most City Council meetings don't get nearly one million views on YouTube.
In addressing the controversy, Business Insider contributor Jay Bhatti took the opportunity to engage in some actual journalism and emailed the councilwoman to get the background on her question. An excerpt:
My question about how residents can benefit from the new campus was primarily meant to be a softball question for Steve to talk more about Apple's long-term relationship with Cupertino and its residents. I was hoping he would talk not only about the fact that they are the city's largest tax payer, but also that Apple reciprocally enjoys calling Cupertino its home, as our city attracts phenomenally talented individuals and families with our vibrant and diverse community, safe neighborhoods, top-notch education districts, and extremely supportive business environment (as evidenced by numerous other tech companies that call Cupertino their home). Believe me, I know how much our residents benefit from having a $300B company in their backyard, but I was hoping to draw out more dialogue on Cupertino and Apple's mutually beneficial relationship.
Steve, in his answer, joked about moving up to Mountain View - Google's hometown where they provide the residents there with free wifi. For some background context, I've joked with Steve in previous conversations (unrelated to Apple's new campus) about Apple doing the same for Cupertino. So, my follow-up was admittedly a flat attempt at going along with the same joke, and Steve replied the same way he did previously to me, which was he believes the city should provide those services. It was intended to be a joke and nothing more.
English is my third language, so I can tell from watching the clip again how viewers might have misunderstood what I said.
Like any elected official who cares about their city, Councilwoman Wong just wanted Steve to say nice things about Cupertino, and was joking around with Cupertino's biggest local success story. Nothing wrong with that.
The Cupertino City Council doesn't seem too worried about the Wi-Fi either: Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong told reporters Wednesday "there is no chance we are saying no" to the new Apple campus.