Google Fiber and the racial divide in Kansas City

As Google Fiber rolls out in Kansas City, they are running into an issue: the existing racial divides in the city.

With Google’s promise last year to wire homes, schools, libraries and other public institutions in this city with the nation’s fastest Internet connection, community leaders on the long forlorn, predominantly black east side were excited, seeing a potentially uplifting force. They anticipated new educational opportunities for their children and an incentive for developers to build in their communities.

But in July, Google announced a process in which only those areas where enough residents preregistered and paid a $10 deposit would get the service, Google Fiber. While nearly all of the affluent, mostly white neighborhoods here quickly got enough registrants, a broad swath of black communities lagged. The deadline to sign up was midnight Sunday…

For generations, Kansas City has been riven by racial segregation that can still be seen, with a majority of blacks in the urban core confined to neighborhoods in the east. Troost Avenue has long been considered the dividing line, the result of both overt and secretive efforts to keep blacks out of white schools and housing areas and of historical patterns of population growth and settlement, said Micah Kubic, with the nonprofit Greater Kansas City Local Initiatives Support Corporation…

During the sign-up, Google faced other practical problems. Many people did not have credit or debit cards, which were required to register, or e-mail addresses. And it failed to account for numerous vacant homes in some communities, so it lowered the number of registrants needed to qualify in those areas.

Many people in black neighborhoods had not heard about Google Fiber, and many who knew only had a vague understanding of it.

This is a reminder there is a “digital divide” between those who have Internet access as well as have knowledge about it and how to use it versus those who do not. As Google has found out, this project also involves public education about the value of having the Internet. It does read as though the company is making a strong effort to inform people about Google Fiber but it may take some time to get the information out.

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