Saturday, September 08, 2012

kansas city, google fiber, and the digital divide...,

Wired | 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.

Google did not go into Kansas City blind to the issue of the digital divide, says company spokeswoman Jenna Wandres. It has 60 representatives on the streets trying to convince people without internet access of the benefits of getting their homes online, Wandres says. (That number will go up to about 100 for this final weekend, she says.) But the process is a challenge, with typical conversations lasting around 25 minutes per resident. Before coming into Kansas City, Wandres says Google did a survey that found about 25 percent of residents didn’t have internet access at home. While affordability is one part of the equation, she says Google found another factor keeping people offline was relevance. “They don’t think they need it,” Wandres says. “They don’t see why.”


John Kurman said...

I was wondering if you were going to mention this. So, it's a fair question. What good is high capacity fiber, aside from watching movies? What for? Why do I need this?

CNu said...

It would be great for distance learning and bringing a larger audience into limited capacity auditorium spectacles. If I've got a a distance learning classroom with a gigabit out to the Internet, I can support hundreds of concurrent students and have them interact with me synchronously. If I'm putting on a major artist with the symphony at the Kaufmann auditorium, I can make that performance available to an audience of many thousands outside the auditorium in high-def in the comfort of their home. If I've got good collaboration-ware, let's say adobe, citrix, or webex, as opposed to skype or googletalk (but it'll work with those jokers too) I can put multiple interactive video collaborators together, sharing not only voice and video but also desktops seamlessly and with no delay.

It'll be a panacea to 21st century web-based education approaches, but it'll be hell on the 85% of stuck in 19th century educators who'll be disintermediated out of what's left of their jobs.Once project glass reaches second generation consumer grade (google glasses) that high-speed coupled with pov perspective and metadata in the glasses will make for some virtual reality collaborations the likes of which nobody has yet seen outside of pretty sophisticated lab settings.