Two days before the deadline to get neighborhoods signed up, Google’s effort to bring ultra-high-speed internet to a major American city could end up reinforcing the digital divide.
When Google Fiber launched last month, the announcement of the service came with the caveat that to get the super-fast 1 gigabit broadband hookups, neighborhoods would have to pre-register a certain percentage of households for the service. The deadline for pre-registrations is Sunday at midnight.
Google has a map publicly tracking which neighborhoods meet the goal. As of Friday afternoon, Kansas City, Missouri, looks divided pretty much straight down the middle. On the western half of the city, nearly all neighborhoods have turned green, indicating they’ve met the goal. To the east, most are still yellow, meaning they haven’t met the goal. Right down the middle between the two halves runs Troost Avenue, the city’s historical socioeconomic and racial dividing line. Based on the map generated by the signup data, Google’s project is the latest to fall short of bridging that gap.
“The white, affluent neighborhoods qualified and the primarily black, lower-income neighborhoods didn’t,” says Michael Liimatta, who runs a Kansas City nonprofit that works to bring broadband access to low-income residents. Liimatta’s group, Connect for Good, focused on getting one of the poorest neighborhoods in Kansas City, Kansas, qualified. They succeeded thanks to heavy campaigning and door-to-door efforts, he says.