Will Google Fiber make Digital and Racial Divide in Kansas City worse?

The Kansas City times has a must-read column today by Mary Sanchez about the progress of Google Fiber. There’s a to be excited about, which I’ll write about in a separate post. But at the moment, it appears Google could be headed for a big backlash if it doesn’t offer a quick course correction.

The issued, as noted by Sanchez, boils down to this: There is a pretty stark diving line in Kansas City between middle class and poor, between black and white. The dividing line is a street called Troost Avenue that runs north and south.

See this map the Kansas City ran with Sanchez’s column:

Basically, almost no neighborhoods east of Troost are hitting the targets to qualify for Google Fiber. That means not just homeowners won’t qualify, but schools, libraries and other public facilities won’t get it either.

Sanchez writes:

“Predictions of a backlash that Google neither fathomed nor intended are being voiced this week in community meetings with company representatives.

“The collateral damage for Google is going to be devastating,” said Kansas City school board member Joseph Jackson.”

Google HAS to fix this. Even it means pushing back the Sept. 10 deadline for registering. Missing that deadline could easily be forgiven. You just can’t have a situation where this happens:

“Not enough pre-registrations could mean there won’t be wiring to those neighborhoods’ schools, community centers, police stations, libraries — a range of public buildings that Google promised free access if goals were met.

Not one school east of Troost has hit the percentage of pre-registrations of surrounding homeowners that Google deemed necessary to trigger the free hookups. Low-income areas of Kansas City, Kan., also are struggling.”

Sharpening the divide between the haves and have nots in Kansas City would be a disaster for Google. It would go against everything the company, and this project, supposedly stand for.

Fortunately, some members of the KC community are hustling to figure out how to fix this. Google needs to listen. And they’re offering constructive advice to Google on different approaches it can make to boost sign ups in those neighborhoods east of Troost.

I belie that Google wants to do the right thing here, and that it will take this advice to heart. Now is not the time to be stubborn, or defensive.

Google Fiber represents a chance to turn the Kansas City area into a beacon of our digital future. But that won’t happen if it looks like the technology has just built new walls that shut certain groups out of this promise and opportunity.


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  • Don

    So people can’t afford free internet?

    They have a 5 Mb internet $25/month first year, Free the next 6 years.

    • I think it’s more than a cost issue. It appears there are a lot of empty homes, and a lot of apartments where the rules for registering are murky, or difficult because owners are elsewhere. And there appears to be lack of awareness of program you mentioned.

      • Guest

        It’s also the way they are advertising. Google is advertising “GOOGLE FIBER” and most of their flyers really don’t have some kind of explanation that they are offering internet and tv. Also FREE internet for that matter. School started already so Google employees should be busy providing these Schools and Libraries with flyers if they have not done so already. Kids/Teens are going to have a better a better understanding anyway and they can educate their parents on these services.

        I also say that they should already start installing these services on the fiberhoods that met their pre registers. That’s only fair for US!

        • Don

          Not sure how much more they need to explain the 3 packages, it’s on signs, billboards, radio, tv and in the mail. You can call them, email or chat online with them.

          I’m hoping Google does the right thing and get the all the schools connected.

          • Don: It’s surprising to many people, but the fact is the FCC has pointed to the lack of the belief that the Internet is necessary, or has value, as a big reason why so many people still choose not to sign up for access. They might here about it, but people wonder: Why do I need it?

    • heatherkay

      You also have to have a computer at home to make this worthwhile. The statistics showing higher percentages of minorities adopting smart phone technology is not an effect of higher need for high-tech gadgets, but the fact that this is the main connection to the internet for the less affluent. I wonder if the higher rate of registrations in KCK, even among lower income neighborhoods comparable to those east of Troost, might have to do with the KCK school districts program of giving laptops to HS students. Those homes, at least, have some use for even broadband.

  • heatherkay

    I’m kind of torn on this. Google is offering (essentially) free broadband internet. But if people don’t have a computer at home, or they’re afraid to unbundle their phone/internet/cable deal or they’re suspicious of the offer, I’m not sure what can be done BY GOOGLE. They are advertising the hell out of the deal, although they are not really emphasizing the free broadband in the general ads (not sure what targeted ads look like). They have street teams working to sign people up.

    Are they really responsible for paying to wire the public buildings in areas with no registrations? If they wait longer, will the registrations materialize? Are the free public facility hookups a premium for the paying subscriptions, like a toaster at the bank, or the whole point of the endeavor, as part of some Google wi-fi conspiracy? Why are fiberhoods in poor neighborhoods in KCK signing up at higher rate? If the problem is blocks with lots of vacant houses, isn’t that KCMO’s fault for giving Google inaccurate tax rolls? Lots of questions to answer with the clock ticking.

    • Heather: Indeed, those are all good questions. But it seems like Google could at the very least opt to hit the pause button on the deadline. I don’t know all the reasons for that sept. 10 deadline, but given the issues, and the desire to get it right, I think there would be less backlash for pushing back a couple of weeks, understanding the dynamic, and seeing what could be done…

      • Don

        The deadline is Sept. 9th

      • heatherkay

        Extending the deadline would be wise, especially given the charlie-foxtrot that they had with getting apartment buildings set up for registration and the whole issue that KCMO maybe didn’t vet the address list they gave Google to purge vacant lots or vacant houses. And setting up this whole fiberhood thing as a competition was an accident waiting to happen. But that is not going to fix the issue of so many homes not having an ethernet port to plug the fiber into.

        I feel a little bit like people were expecting that Google would descend from Mountain View and rescue the Kansas City, Missouri, school district, which has seen some rough days, with no expectation of reciprocation. But the point of the whole effort wasn’t to provide a deus ex machinoogle to solve the digital divide. That was one part of the whole thing Google is trying to do, but not the only part and not its sole focus.

        I’m sort of sad that more people don’t see this as a great opportunity to start something, at whatever level, and to get going on fixing it within the KC community, rather than a panacea. Because ultimately, if there’s a library or a school in our community that has crappy facilities, that’s failure of the larger community (green and yellow), not Google.

  • Joe Hunter

    It’s the Kansas City Star.

    • What’s your point?

      • J Bruce

        I believe his point is that there’s an error in the fourth word of your article, so you should probably correct it. I doubt you’d be too pleased if someone mistakenly referred to you as a columnist for the San Jose Business Journal, so let’s extend other cities the same courtesy.

        • Joe Hunter

          Thanks J. Bruce for explaining my post. I kept it short, apparently too short.

  • Bill

    I’ve been working on the ground in Kansas City with some very energetic and motivated google fiber teams. They are by far young, educated and simply put, mostly Caucasian. They are doing their best to work with community leaders, but after decades of white flight, black flight, crime, exploitation by subprime mortgage agents and subsequent foreclosures, these areas have deep seeded problems that are difficult to work through even for those that have years of experience. These areas have high concentrations of minority poor who are elderly, technically ignorant, or highly mobile.  It’s hard to sell something, even though it is a deal of a lifetime, to people who move every 6 months, renters, or never had Internet in their home or even a computer. Google has inadvertently revealed problems that most of us in Kansas City already knew about. It’s embarrassing now that the world has seen our disfunction. Now we will be defined on how we respond. 

  • Johnny

    I’m sorry, why is this Google’s problem again? I was under the impression that companies had to turn a profit in order to continue to offer services/goods, and if no one is registering for their new fiber product in certain areas on the city then why would they cable to those areas?

    If people want the product, then they will register. If they do not, then they won’t.

    Also, are they worrying about the schools? And police stations? There are certainly other data services offered in the KC area if they’re worried about net connectivity.

    Getting on your high horse and saying that Google HAS to fix something is awfully arrogant. The longer they wait the more money it is costing them to get the system up in the first place.

    • Jason

      What you seam to fail to see that’s plainly obviouse to the “smart” sence people is that this crazy fast speed will be W A Y Y Y Y Y Y cheaper.

      The people who need to be worried are Dish, Direct, Comcast, Cox, and every other DSL isp.

      So what if those east side neighborhoods didn’t sign up for it fast enough. RE READ Googles fiber page. It’s just rewarding the neighborhoods with the most signups front of the line installation!

    • Jason


      My tax money had better not get involved here.

      I don’t want the “have nots” benifiting from MY EARNED money that I want to spend on wicked fast internet!

  • Mike

    All that Sanchez writes would be unconscionable- if it were true.

    1) Sanchez writes that “not one” school east of Troost is in a green fiberhood. This is true. In fact there are at least half a dozen public schools east of Troost that are in green fiberhoods.

    2) Renters are unable to pre-register because thy do not have permission from out-of-state landlords and property owners. In fact, Google does not allow property owners to register their buildings- they only want the occupant. Like the renter.

    3) Minority neighborhoods have been given roughly equal treatment in terms of the pre-registration goals- generally 5-10%- and were given all of the same information and at the same time as the non-minority neighborhoods. And there is still time to act- if they so choose.

    4) The truth is, a lot of minority neighborhoods have just not embraced Google. There are 14 predominantly minority neighborhoods that have met the pre-registration goal set by Google. In a most extreme case, the demographics of one successful lay out like this:

    – > 65% minority population
    – Median household income ~ 50% of KC median
    – 27% of population live below the poverty level
    – 73% have a high school education or less
    – 20% of the residents don’t speak English well or at all.
    – 50% of the land area within neighborhood boundaries is vacant.
    – 70% of the housing is rental units.
    – Pre-registration goal of 25% – 250-500% HIGHER than most of other neighborhoods (including minority neighborhoods).

    If a neighborhood with these type of demogaphics was able to make their pre-registration goal, then there is no excuse for any other neighborhood not to have gotten it done.

  • Barbara

    Google came to KC with a marketing plan that was not well thought out. They want the community to sell fiber to each other. Since the area east of Troost has so much rental property the “tenants” are now asked to speak to the property owner about their desire to have Google Fiber. Well, my landlord wants to know things I can’t answer like, how the changes Google is proposing will affect the structure of his buildings? “Are they going to be drilling holes in my property that may require patch up work from me?” Hell, I don’t know! I just want the fiber!!

    Google could do a lot better than they’ve done. I’m the last person to try and defend the people of Kansas City! I live in this conservative wasteland surrounded by ignorance and backward thinking hayseeds. At the end of the day, Kansas City will succeed in meeting the deadline that Google has laid out. At the end of the day even the people east of Troost will “be wired” for fiber. They won’t all have it but the fiber will be laid!

    Google, you could have done a lot better. I’m happy you’re here but I really wish you’d come to my area – east of Troost – before the deadline because I really don’t have the money to organize an event and sponsor you and the neighbors so that you can bring them up to speed on the benefits of having your service (like you asked me to do in your email). I’m registered but I have spread pamphlets, talked to store owners and residents and just talked myself silly trying to market fiber. Everybody asks me the same thing, “Do you work for Google?” When I tell them no and that it’s something that will transform the community and offer a better service to them they say, “What’s in it for you if I sign up?”

    Send your people Google! You should have hired more local temps and diversified the staff a little, you know?

    Signed: Frazzled in Fiberhood

  • JohnR

    There is nothing wrong with how this is progressing. If part of the city is predominantly vacant houses, or populated with people who do not see this as something worthwhile, then they will not meet the goal. This means that fiber installed there would be underutilized, therefore a waste of time and money. The whole point of having the program laid out like this is to identify those areas so that such waste can be avoided.

    Google is not the government. They are not subject to the fanciful notion that everything has to be fair for everyone. Altering the deadline defeats the purpose of having a deadline. Quit whining about Google and start laying blame where it is due. On the neighborhoods that aren’t meeting deadlines.

  • Barbara

    FROM @googlefiber: Some more information on fiberhood thresholds and adjustments: http://t.co/DBGLOTqb

    Google, if you had gotten the correct information would I still have to wait longer for my fiber until after you appease those west of Troost?

    Such a marketing debacle!