Archive for Monday, September 3, 2012

Google Fiber could widen digital divide in Kansas City area

September 3, 2012


— She has no Internet at home, so Robinett Foreman sweats over lost computer time at school.

The 17-year-old is one of 11 students out of 18 without home access in her business technology class at Kansas City Public Schools’ Central Academy of Excellence.

Stress builds in class, she said, “when I’m on a project, trying to do research, and (the Internet) is running slow.”

Her high school, with its overwhelmed Internet connection, sits in a neighborhood lagging well behind the pre-registrations Google requires to light up its cutting-edge Web access.

“It’s not fair,” said Mona Price, Central’s dean of instruction. “It’s not fair to the kids in urban settings who are trying to get an education.”

Many of the schools, libraries and poorest neighborhoods given first shot at drawing Google’s ultra-fast Internet service look in danger of missing out on Kansas City’s digital revolution.

Despite an offer by the tech giant’s Google Fiber operation to virtually give away some Internet service to customers, the areas most lacking in online connections also appear the most likely to be left behind in Kansas City’s leap ahead on a light-speed network.

Two weeks remain for dozens of neighborhoods to sign up enough potential customers to qualify for Google’s service before Sunday’s deadline. But many neighborhoods — chiefly the least prosperous pockets of the metro area — remain far behind the pace needed to hit the Google-established thresholds of customer penetration.

That means many of the free connections Google agreed to make to public buildings, library branches and community centers won’t happen.

Google insists it’s too early to write off any of what it calls “fiberhoods.” It has begun to fix problems that have complicated apartment dwellers’ efforts to sign up for its service. And, most critically, the company points out that it has every incentive to round up as many customers as possible — and to expand to more neighborhoods rather than fewer.

Money concerns

Yet the Google Fiber rollout is driven by very real logistic and economic factors that make it impractical to offer the service where few people show an interest in buying service, even if that means a neighborhood school won’t get wired to tomorrow’s Internet.

Meanwhile, community efforts strive to help Google find would-be customers. Some are even paying the $10 fee needed to cast a vote of interest in the service.

That in turn creates a problem for Google. Are people who didn’t pay their own registration fee likely to buy the company’s state-of-the-art Internet and TV service for $120 a month for two years? Would they purchase super-fast Internet-only packages for $70 a month for a year? Or pay $25 a month for one year for installation of a 5-megabits-per-second Internet connection that would carry no other cost for seven years?

“We’re thrilled that some local organizations want to encourage widespread Internet access by helping with the Google Fiber pre-registration process,” Google spokeswoman Jenna Wandres said. “That being said, people should only pre-register if they intend to get Google Fiber service.”

Google, after all, is using its ongoing “rally” — a now-or-never period when residents of much of Kansas City, Kan., and a large part of Kansas City, Mo., must put down their small deposits suggesting they want service — to identify the greatest demand.

Other Internet service and TV subscription companies — in this market, chiefly Time Warner Cable and AT&T; — entered the business under different regulations. Time Warner Cable was granted franchises, no longer in force, that demanded it offer service to virtually every home. The company still gives free Internet and television service to more than 350 libraries, schools and other public buildings in the two cities. AT&T;’s U-verse service, although not as ubiquitous, still reaches 400,000 homes in the market.

Demand driven

Google has strong incentives to be prudent in its rollout. Each city block brings a significant gamble for Google. Some industry analysts estimate that the cost of installing a connection to a single home averages $2,500. Google is mostly waiving that cost to customers, and it will have to absorb the expense.

That drives Google to neighborhoods where the demand is most widespread. The company’s strategy, meanwhile, has stirred grumbling in areas where hitting Google’s goals looks most remote.

“Everybody thought all the schools and libraries were going to get this for free,” said the Rev. Rick Behrens of Grandview Park Presbyterian Church. “A lot of people are upset that that’s not going to be the case. It’s disappointing.”

In its agreement with the two city councils, Google said it would give free service to up to 430 locations in Wyandotte County and Kansas City. The cities picked the buildings.

Google then drew “fiberhood” boundaries. Next, it set the percentage of pre-registering households needed to qualify a neighborhood for service. Depending on the neighborhood, the pre-registration goals range from one in 20 homes to one in four.

Wandres, the Google spokeswoman, said the company has 60 people in Kansas City now trying to sign up enough residents to get more neighborhoods to qualify for its service.

Still, many are in jeopardy of missing out.

In downtown Kansas City, Kan., 11 places were slated for free service: Children’s Campus of Kansas City, the city health department, police headquarters, Memorial Hall, the main library, City Hall, the court services building, the Board of Public Utilities, the Kansas State School for the Blind, the county courthouse and the Jack Reardon Convention Center.

Google has said 10 percent of the downtown district must pre-register before anyone there gets service. That means 89 homes. By Friday afternoon, just 13 were pre-registered in the first four weeks, with a little over two weeks to go.

Rich vs. poor

In the meantime, some neighborhoods cleared the hurdles set for them in a matter of days. Even a cursory glance at the map showing which neighborhoods are likely to get Google Fiber — more than 80 have met Google’s requirements — shows a strong correlation between rich and poor Kansas City.

West of Troost Avenue, the map is mostly green, indicating neighborhoods with plenty of eager customers. East of Troost, pre-registrations largely are low. In Kansas City, Kan., the map looks more quilt-like. Places where incomes are lower seem to have little chance of getting Google’s Internet service.

“I’m concerned that the digital divide” — the gap between electronic haves and have-nots — “will be exacerbated by the fact that you’ll have extremely fast Internet in some neighborhoods while people in neighborhoods with fewer resources will be left even further behind,” said Christopher Barnickel, an assistant director at the Kansas City, Kan., Public Library.

The city’s school district is worried that many of its buildings will be left without the fiber optic connections that will blossom in areas that are better off.

“We worked hard to close the technology divide between our kids and more-resourced communities,” said school district spokesman David Smith.

All students in the district high schools, for instance, are issued laptops.

“It is unimaginable to us to have that divide reopen,” Smith said.

Some say the bridge over the digital divide now seems like a mirage.

“It does not have the feel of the universal access that was part of the initial description,” said Karen Hostetler, a resident of the East Argentine section of Kansas City, Kan.


hitme 5 years, 8 months ago

I have no idea why I would need faster Internet this year or in the next five years. I certainly wouldn't pay $120 per month for the overkill.

chootspa 5 years, 8 months ago

That's for fiber and TV. Fiber alone is pretty close to what we pay for it in Lawrence, only several hundred times faster.

riverdrifter 5 years, 8 months ago

I know plenty of people and businesses who would love to have it. Google needs to wise up and head for Johnson county and then Douglas county as fast as they can. They're currently mired in the backwaters of KC, KS and KCMO. I know they want to do good for everybody but if certain areas do not respond, given a fair chance, then move on.

northtowngrl 5 years, 8 months ago

Rverdrifter, That would just open up the digital divide even further. They need to stick to their promises of access for the entire city and find another formula. This formula didn't come into play until well after their big announcement and neither city had anything to say about it. It was just dropped on them and they were left scrambling. Of Course its going to be a hard sell to some neighborhoods who not because they don't want it, but just can't afford it.

John Hamm 5 years, 8 months ago

Why then, in the article, state that the Cities chose which buildings (locations) THEY wanted the service - not Google.

chootspa 5 years, 8 months ago

They intentionally chose an economically diverse community. Now they're learning that even $10 is too much of a hurdle for some people.

Kendall Simmons 5 years, 8 months ago

What does your "NOT" refer to, Oonly? Google intentionally choosing an economically diverse community? Or $10 being too much of a hurdle for some people?

I hope to heck it wasn't the latter, but I'm a payee for a number of folks...and, yes...$10 extra a month is more than some could afford.

Kendall Simmons 5 years, 8 months ago

River...I hope you were trying to be sarcastic. It's hard to tell. (You REALLY need to work on your sarcasm skills if you were :-)

northtowngrl 5 years, 8 months ago

The 120 a month is for internet AND cable TV service. Which makes it much cheaper than Time Warner, Cox or whatever amalgamation of cable service we have here now.

Topple 5 years, 8 months ago

Are we really having this conversation? Try doing research without the internet. Try opening a book.

Should Google have to pipe out ultra-speed internet to the middle-of-nowhere parts of Kansas to three homes because of this digital divide? People think everything should be equal. Guess what? Poverty-level neighborhoods aren't their target market. To require they sustain ridiculous losses installing it in neighborhoods that aren't going to pay for it is ignorant. People always expect someone to pay for them so we're all equal. When are people going to start picking up their own tab?

deec 5 years, 8 months ago

Google is contractually obligated to provide the free service to public buildings. Whether it is profitable for them to do so is not a factor.

Kendall Simmons 5 years, 8 months ago

Uh...exactly what part of "middle-of-nowhere" was this article talking about???

Google should at least make sure they take care of those public locations on the list. Punishing everyone because the low-income people in the neighborhood can't afford $10 a month is STUPID.

Centerville 5 years, 8 months ago

So does the 'new normal" mean that no technological improvement can go on the market until it's provided for 'free' to everyone who doesn't want to pay for it? Where are improvements going to originate, if not in an arms'-length market?

Kendall Simmons 5 years, 8 months ago

I guess you've been in a coma your whole life. You poor, poor dear.

You see...there's this thing called "charitable contributions". And they reap amazing tax benefits to the giant corporations that make them.

You have sooooo much to learn. This would be a great place to start.

Kendall Simmons 5 years, 8 months ago

How about getting "high speed" in the first place? How about Internet fast enough that all the people trying to use it at once at the public library or the high school can have access?

And why are you so hateful? So resentful? Why do you want to blow off every single kid in "urban centers" because, in your personal opinion (which has apparently been developed from far away and with no facts to back you up), you believe that "they" have been a waste of investment?

What the heck have YOU invested in them??? A few tax dollars? Oh, such sacrifice. You poor, poor dear. You must have suffered so.

deec 5 years, 8 months ago

I wonder if people who paid the registration fee but live in neighborhood that won't get the service will get their money back.

Forbes thinks the whole project should be scrapped.

akuna 5 years, 8 months ago

The increase in the digital divide should be temporary. More and more consumers, and more and more ISPs will start to provide similar services at a similar price point. The market should respond to this shift in business model.

Matthew Del Vecchio 5 years, 8 months ago

This AP story is at least 2 weeks old. I read it a while back. Slow news day ljworld?

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