Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
And soon maybe expand across the U.S. thanks to a partnership between Google Fiber and HUD.
Getting online is much more expensive in the U.S. than in many other parts of the world. It’s no secret, then, that many low-income Americans find themselves on the wrong side of a “digital divide”—the high cost prohibits them from getting an Internet connection. This means that kids and adults who could benefit most from the trove of knowledge and resources available online are the ones who don’t have access to it.
To narrow this persistent digital gap, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced their ConnectHome initiative in partnership with Google Fiber last July. The goal was to bring free, high-speed Internet to select public-housing facilities across the country. Today this ambitious project kicks off at the West Bluff housing facility in Kansas City, where 100 households, many with school-age kids, will be connected to Internet as fast as 1,000 megabits per second. In the next few months, project leaders expect to do the same for 1,300 other families in Kansas City.
“Knowledge and education are the currency of this 21st Century economy, and Google Fiber is helping ensure that low-income children have access to the tools they need to be competitive in their schoolwork and close the digital divide,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro in a press statement.
Here’s a map showing some cities where public housing complexes may get connected with Google Fiber in the coming months:
These housing facilities will be selected in consultation with HUD and local partners based on factors such as family composition and availability of a common-room space that could be turned into a computer lab. Google Fiber is working with local partners to set up these labs and provide workshops on how to use this technology. They’re also partnering with local non-profits to provide low cost devices. In Kansas City, Connecting for Good and Surplus Exchange are helping to provide refurbished computers, tablets, and smartphones to residents for as little as $50.
The hope is that going online in the comfort of their home will help these residents find better jobs and equip their kids with information that helps them do better at school. Faster Internet means residents can learn skills like coding, videography, and audio-editing that they may not have been able to before.
“We can shift from just becoming consumers of the web to becoming creators and contributors of the web,” Erica Swanson, head of community impact at Google Fiber, tells CityLab. “The idea … is that with that Gig connectivity, we could very well see the next generation of tech leaders, of entrepreneurs, of start-ups, of web developers coming from communities like West Bluff.”