According to Google, about 180 of Kansas City’s 202 neighborhoods met the registration benchmark required to show viable interest in Google Fiber, the internet giant’s new fiber optic powered broadband internet service. It will be the fastest internet service ever provided in the nation, featuring download speeds of up to 1000 Mbps, or 1 Gbps.
However, the majority of the neighborhoods that missed the registration deadline were most likely low income. Fortunately, these neighborhoods will have another chance to sign up sometime next year, so it’s clear that should Google is planning on expansion should Google Fiber become an unqualified success.
Google Fiber will be available to qualified residents this fall, which can’t come soon enough for some of the city’s residents. Kansas City beat out more than 1,100 cities to be the first to receive Google Fiber, which effectively puts it on the map as the city with the fastest internet broadband network in the nation. Eat your heart out, New York, L.A., and San Francisco!
The biggest concern about Google’s rollout was the fact that the majority of neighborhoods that missed the deadline were low income residents, which may exacerbate an already widening digital divide between the poor and affluent. The point of creating a broadband internet is to democratize access, but in this case, it seems to have just reinforced existing disadvantages to the digital have-nots in the community.
While the more affluent and digitally savvy Kansas City neighborhoods met the sign-up requirements in record time, many lower-income areas were slow to register, which raised concerns about their inclusion.
“Over the past six weeks, we’ve worked side-by-side with many amazing community organizations to try and lessen the digital divide, and spread the word that access to the Internet is an essential element of everyday life,” Google said in a statement. In addition, the company would also be issuing grants so local agencies can promote digital literacy to those in need.
Some activists said that Google’s registration requirements discouraged many low income residents from signing up. Many low income residents don’t have a debit card and many couldn’t afford to pay the $10 preregistration fee. In addition, it’s doubtful that many low income residents can afford the $70 monthly fee, even if that’s amazingly cheap compared to the other major ISPs in the country.
Many low income residents are also unaware of the benefits of broadband, according to Michael Liimatta, president of Connecting for Good, a Kansas City nonprofit group that advocates for equal broadband access. “There were a lot of people who don’t understand Google Fiber and frankly don’t understand why they need the Internet,” Liimatta said.
For customers who don’t know what they’re going to do with all the broadband, Google offers basic speed service at 5Mbps—which is free for 7 years after a $300 one-time fee or monthly instalments of $25 to cover the network’s expansion and construction costs. Sounds pretty fair, I think.
Google will release the final tally of qualifying neighborhoods this Thursday. Hopefully, Google Fiber will expand to the rest of the nation soon. The price is almost criminally low for a speed that’s absolutely unprecedented for residential users—and I’m jealous that Kansas City got this before L.A., which is my neck of the woods. Will the other ISPs step up their game? Only time will tell.