Google Fiber has been providing free high-speed Internet service to eight Kansas City-area social housing complexes for the past year as part of the federal ConnectHome program to bridge the digital divide for low-income families.
A handful of social housing residents on the West Side of Kansas City munched on cookies and typed on keyboards Tuesday afternoon to mark one year of free internet.
Yeah, free. Which, it turns out, could be a tough sell.
A year ago, Google Fiber partnered with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Kansas City Housing Authority to connect low-income residents to the web.
The federal ConnectHome program works to partner companies that sell Internet services with local housing authorities to connect families to the Internet.
In the year since the program’s launch, Google Fiber connected 1,100 homes in Kansas City and Kansas City, Kansas – while fighting skepticism from residents who thought there must be a catch.
âWhen someone from the housing authority knocks on the door, people assume there is a problem,â said Kelvin Patterson, the ConnectHome liaison for the local agency. He has become known over the past year to residents as âMr. Google.â âThey think there’s something wrong with the rent or a rule. We had to tell them, ‘No, c ‘the internet really is free.’ “
Even then, he said, people thought there was an âembarrassmentâ waiting to intervene. A bill that would come later. Collection of data that Google would provide to the housing authority or the federal government. Something.
So Patterson relied on people like Tamara Butler in the West Bluff residential complex to spread the gospel of the free Internet to her neighbors.
âIt’s the best thing,â she said.
Her 3-year-old son, Willie, uses an electronic tablet purchased from Surplus Exchange, the non-profit electronics recycler, for $ 22. Using programs like ABC Mouse, he learns his colors, spelling, geography, and a series of preschool classes. Sometimes when the two are playing together, she hears, “No, that’s how you do it, mom.”
She used the fiber-optic Internet connection, rather than browsing the scarce data on her mobile phone plan, to find a job as a certified medical assistant. Now she’s using the gigabit per second connection, the same thing most Google Fiber customers pay $ 70-80 a month, to start online training for a nursing certificate.
When Google Fiber began to wire the market with its super-fast connections, it only went to neighborhoods where listings suggested the demand would justify the company’s spending to expand into different areas. This left out some of the poorer sections of Kansas City.
With its free connections to social housing through ConnectHome, Google has alleviated some of the criticism that it is widening the digital divide between those who can afford broadband and those who cannot afford the monthly expenses.
Rachel Merlo, Google Fiber’s local community impact manager, said more than 80% of apartments and townhouses in eight selected social housing complexes have been equipped with internet service. Some residents are still worried that this will come without conditions, she said, and turnover in some units has complicated other facilities. Construction began last February and ended in Kansas City, Kansas, in December.
The project focused on places where school-aged children live, Merlo said, to help them with their homework.
After the residences were cabled, she said, libraries, Literacy KC, Surplus Exchange and other groups worked to equip people with used laptops, desktops and tablets.
âThen the challenge was to educate people on how to use the Internet,â Merlo said. “A lot of the time, they knew how to do it on their phones, but not on the desk.”
In the small West Bluff computer lab on Tuesday, Jaylen Bates, 7, tapped out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” by tapping on a banana, orange, and clumps of clay wired into one of the computers. portable.
âIt’s fun,â he said. “And you learn things.”