Broadband

Google leads effort to bring broadband to public housing

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The Department of Housing and Urban Development and Google rolled out ultra-fast 1 gigabit/sec Internet access in 100 units in the West Bluff Townhomes in Kansas City, Mo., on Feb. 3. The development is the first of many nationwide slated to get Google Fiber as part of the Obama administration's ConnectHome initiative.

During a conference call with reporters, Google Fiber Vice President Dennis Kish said the effort targets low-income Americans with children in an effort to bring "the best of the Internet to people who need it most."

Currently, one in four U.S. families do not have home Internet access, according to HUD.

"It's a vital part of helping our nation succeed in the 21st-century global economy," said HUD Secretary Julian Castro, referring to the White House's goal of connecting every American home to reliable broadband by the end of the Obama administration.

Kish said Google would foot the bill for the foreseeable future.

"We feel as though there is a rising tide that we can help to create in our country by really reaching out to residents who don't have the opportunity to connect to the web," he said. "The obligation is there, and it's renewable, and there's no end date on the program."

The level of influence lawmakers might have over the program remains unclear. Asked whether the government would filter or monitor the web content accessed by families through the program, Castro stressed the importance of ensuring that children view age-appropriate content but said, "There has not been a conversation candidly about legislation or anything related to that."

He and Kish emphasized the positive potential of broadband access in terms of enabling low-income Americans to apply for jobs, college and financial aid in greater numbers, and giving children more resources for doing homework. But they noted that education would be a key element of the push to ensure that gigabit connections are put to good use.

"It's not enough to just provide an Internet connection," Castro said, adding that HUD is partnering with organizations such as Common Sense Media to help people use the Internet effectively.

Internet service providers Cherokee Communications, Pine Telephone, Suddenlink Communications, Vyve Broadband, CenturyLink, Cox Communications and Sprint are expected to join HUD's efforts as ConnectHome spreads across the country in the coming months. San Antonio, Nashville, Atlanta and Durham, N.C., are the other cities slated to get Google Fiber for residents of low-income housing developments.

Besides paying for the Internet access, Kish said Google will staff classes in residential computer labs to help people learn how to make the most of their new top-notch connections.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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