Google Discontinues Free Internet Service in Kansas City, Mo.

The elimination of the free tier suggests a major change in the tech giant's approach to expanding the Internet's reach to low-income households.

by Mike Rogoway, The Oregonian / April 12, 2016
Kansas City, Mo.

(TNS) — Google Fiber has stopped offering free Internet service in Kansas City.

In its place, it's added a new tier of Internet service for $50 a month -- $20 cheaper than its flagship gigabit service. It's the biggest change in Google's pricing plans since it began offering service in Kansas City, its first market, in 2012.

The elimination of the free tier – a slower, 5 megabits-per-second service that requires only a one-time, $300 fee connection fee for several years of service – suggests a major change in Google's approach to expanding the Internet's reach to low-income households.

Online tech journal Re/code noted the change Saturday. The new pricing doesn't apply yet to Google Fiber's other two existing markets – Austin and Provo – but it does apply in Atlanta, one of the service's newest markets. (Other new markets don't have pricing listed yet.)

The company confirmed the pricing to Re/code but said notbhing more.

Google Fiber has been contemplating service in Portland since early 2014 and appears close to announcing plans to proceed. It has hired local staff, applied for a land-use permit for a portion of its network, and begun talking to neighborhood associations about the service. But it hasn't confirmed its Portland plans yet.

Google Fiber's main service offers 1 gigabit service (1,000 megabits per second, 40 times faster than the federal broadband standard) for $70 a month, and has been the same price in Kansas City, Google's first market, for nearly four years. The free tier was designed to reach people who couldn't afford hyperfast service.

Relatively few Kansas City homes took advantage of the free service, though, in part because many low-income people rent their homes, and landlords had little incentive to pay the up-front cost.

So Google has been working with a federal program, a Portland nonprofit and through other initiatives to provide Internet service to people living in public housing and affordable housing programs.

The new, 100 Mbps service and $50 monthly price brings Google closer to mainstream speeds and pricing and might make the service more competitive in the marketplace.

(Google also offers cable TV for an additional $70 a month and has begun offering landline phone service for $10 more.)

Industry observers say Google has made little headway in its local markets, at least with its TV service, and the new 100 Mbps may be designed to offer a more competitive alternative to established Internet and cable TV providers while Google develops a more effective alternative for low-income residents.

©2016 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs