When Google announced details about its ultra-high-speed Internet service on July 26, all of Kansas City was excited.  Here at the Green Impact Zone, we were particularly excited about the potential for free connections at the schools and public institutions that serve our neighborhoods.  We were also excited about Google’s plan to help shrink the digital divide by offering free Internet connectivity for seven years (at lower speeds) for a minimal installation charge. 

Google came up with a demand-based plan to determine where the fiber service would go and who would get it first. They divided the city into “Fiberhoods” and set a goal for how many residents had to pre-register (by paying a $10 fee online) to qualify each neighborhood for the service.

A few days later, it was clear to see where Google Fiber was definitely going to be installed. On Google’s Fiberhood map, neighborhoods west of Troost — the city’s historic racial dividing line — were meeting their goals very quickly, while east of Troost the registrations were much slower.

Our Green Impact Zone staff knew immediately that the problem wasn’t lack of demand, but lack of education.  We didn’t want our neighborhoods and residents to be left behind, so we contacted the Google Fiber Team and met with them.  We explained the Green Impact Zone’s mission of community transformation and talked about how Google Fiber could help our efforts. For example, we learned from the Fiber team that just having a house wired for Google Fiber could raise the property value anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000! The schools and libraries in our communities need free high-speed Internet, and our lower-income residents could definitely benefit from having free Internet access, too.

We asked the Fiber team how they calculated their pre-registration goals for each Fiberhood, and made sure they understood some of the unique challenges in our neighborhoods, such as the large number of vacant properties and the high percentage of renters.  We worked hard to make sure that Google understood the concerns of the neighborhood associations and residents in Green Impact Zone neighborhoods.

Then we got busy!  We helped organize door-to-door engagement of residents using volunteers from the neighborhoods to share information about all of our Green Impact Zone strategies and about Google Fiber.  We helped the Fiber team schedule informational events at churches and other locations in the zone.

Shontrice Patillo, our office administrator, used her contacts to get detailed data about vacant lots and structures in the zone.  This data supported our contention that Google’s initial numbers for our neighborhoods were high, and as a result of Shontrice’s efforts the registration goals for most of the Fiberhoods in the zone were lowered. 

But even with lower goals and all of our outreach efforts, many of the zone’s neighborhoods were still a far cry from meeting their goals as September began, with the registration deadline just a few days away. Without enough time to educate all of our residents about the importance of Internet connectivity — how it could help schools, public institutions and individuals — we needed help. Zone staff reached out to Paint the Town Green, an effort launched by the Social Media Club of Kansas City to help urban core neighborhoods qualify for Google Fiber. With help from Paint the Town Green and our neighborhood leaders, we were able to connect with funders who were willing to pay the $10 registration fee for residents who were interested in Google Fiber but either couldn’t afford the fee, didn’t have a debit card to pay online, or didn’t have access to a computer to sign up.

With help from a team of volunteers, we began a final push, registering hundreds of residents on the Google website.  This was a tedious process that took the better part of a week and a large amount of patience — from those of us doing the registrations and from our families and friends.

In the end, we’re pleased to announce that all of the Fiberhoods associated with the neighborhoods we serve in the Green Impact Zone met their pre-registration goals! 

While the Green Impact Zone doesn’t recommend one Internet provider over another, we want our residents to have the same range of options available to them as other neighborhoods.  Thanks to all of these efforts, zone residents will now have the option to access Google Fiber in their homes — and ultra-high-speed Internet will be available for the schools and public institutions that serve our residents!