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‘Give Us a Gig’ Helps Narrow Digital Divide in Gigabit City

Community efforts help Google fiber reach schools, libraries and public facilities in more Kansas City neighborhoods.

Google’s announcement in late July of the details of its rollout of 1 gigabit fiber connectivity in Kansas City revealed a number of ways for citizens to get on board, with Internet speeds estimated to be 100 times faster than today’s average rates.

The company is offering three ways for residents to utilize Google services: connectivity at today’s speeds that preserves the option to upgrade to fiber in the future, an upgraded link to full-speed Google fiber, or the “full Google experience,” which packages gigabit connectivity with Google’s new TV service.

But if a neighborhood fails to meet the company’s preregistration threshold, going Google will have to wait. Google is giving neighborhoods in Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., along with some neighboring communities added more recently, until Sept. 9 to indicate interest with a $10 preregistration fee. Those neighborhoods that meet Google’s registration targets will get first priority when it comes time to connect to the ultra-fast service.

But what about those neighborhoods that don’t meet the target?

Aaron Deacon, president of the Social Media Club of Kansas City, points out that the soft commitment of the $10 registration is an easy threshold for many residents to meet. But for some in disadvantaged areas, Internet service, and therefore preregistration, isn’t a priority.

Enter Give Us a Gig, a community-driven initiative to maximize the impact this fiber build-out could have in and around Kansas City. Stemming from earlier efforts — including a broad community brainstorming session in 2011 — Deacon describes Give Us a Gig as a broad-base effort consisting of education, engagement and advocacy components.

Door-to-door outreach, neighborhood organizing and community events are making headway in these disadvantaged neighborhoods, driving up adoption. According to Deacon, many residents are compelled to preregister when they learn that reaching neighborhood registration goals means community facilities will benefit as well. Schools, libraries and government buildings will be hooked up to Google fiber if residential interest is high enough. Google’s television service helps convince the reluctant as well, who despite tight budgets are still shelling out money for monthly cable service.

With Google’s Sept. 9 deadline fast approaching, Give Us a Gig is now partnering with locally based crowdfunding site, to help raise money for the effort.

“Our pitch basically is, if you're someone who thinks this is important, who has put down the $10 preregistration fee for yourself, and want to help another neighborhood in Kansas City qualify, pitch in and we'll figure out how to distribute that money to different neighborhood groups who are trying to get the manpower behind it to get people signed up,” said Deacon.

The project, called Paint the Town Green, references Google’s maps of local “fiberhoods,” where neighborhoods that have registered sufficient interest are shaded in green.


Image: A map of Kansas City, Kan., neighborhoods that are above goal (green) and below goal (orange and yellow), courtesy of Google. Map reflects preregistration activity as of Aug. 24.

So far, more than $2,700 has been raised via, which will go toward meeting preregistration thresholds. “I would like to see a completely green map,” Deacon added.

Once next month’s deadline passes, efforts to capitalize on fiber in Kansas City will continue. Google must then turn the soft preregistration commitments into concrete ones.

Perhaps more significant will be challenges surrounding hardware as well as digital literacy and education throughout the community.

“We've had a great and dedicated group of volunteers who have done a lot of work over the past eight months,” said Deacon. “I think that some of them will continue on in that role, but hopefully we'll see some more organized and committed resources devoted to tackling some of those other issues as we keep moving forward.”