If you have a reliable Internet connection, you have opportunity: you can take online courses and learn new skills, you can work remotely or start a new company, and you can tap into a virtually unlimited world of information. But the “digital divide”–that is, the divide between the urban poor that lacks access to the Internet and those that are highly connected–is still a big problem.
In Austin, Google is helping to bridge that gap by offering its Google Fiber high-speed Internet service to the 4,300 people who live in public housing offered by the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA). Once a household signs on, they get 10 years of free service (and the option to upgrade to more premium services at any time).
“This is the first partnership with a major public housing provider in a big city in which residents are being offered Fiber to the home and the opportunity to sign up for that at no cost,” says Parisa Fatehi-Weeks, the community impact manager for Google Fiber Austin.
The news is part of a larger initiative, called Unlocking the Connection, that’s providing all sorts of resources for local residents who aren’t yet online. Austin Community College is, for example, donating hundreds of refurbished computers to the program, while Austin Free-Net, a nonprofit in the city, is providing digital literacy training.
Google joined the initiative after learning about HACA’s goal of getting all of its residents online. “The more we talked to them, the more we saw what a comprehensive vision they had–not only access for access to the Internet, but for education, and also having a device in residents’ hands,” says Fatehi-Weeks.
Austin is one of three cities, including Kansas City and Provo, Utah, that has access to Google Fiber. In Kansas City, the first city to get Fiber, Google has been criticized for failing to close the digital divide (Google provides a free basic Internet service in that city, but it comes with a $300 installation fee).
According to Fatehi-Weeks, Google wants to address community needs wherever it brings Fiber. “In Austin, we saw a partner in HACA. In that sense it is unique because they had this groundwork in place,” she says. ” Whenever we’re in a community, we want to be able to follow local leadership.”