Back in November, Google announced its participation in Unlocking the Connection, a new initiative by the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) to “help close the digital divide for the 4,300 people who live in public housing.” The company essentially promised to give Austin’s public housing residents free Google Fiber connections for 10 years. Now it has promised to expand that offering to every other current and future Google Fiber market.
The move is part of U.S. President Obama’s ConnectHome program, launched by the White House and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with the goal of bringing Internet connectivity to more school-aged children and families living in HUD-assisted housing in 27 communities across the country. HUD has chosen four communities (Atlanta, Durham, Nashville, and Kansas City) to start, but Google promises the program will extend to all its Google Fiber cities: public and affordable housing properties will pay $0/month and Google will waive the installation fee.
Google cites a Pew study from last month that found 26 percent of households earning less than $30,000 per year don’t access the Internet, compared to just 3 percent of adults with annual incomes over $75,000. The company goes on to say that “people can only take advantage of the many benefits of the Web when they understand why it matters and know how to use it.”
As such, Google is also partnering with ConnectHome and local community groups to create computer labs for developing basic computer skills training in each Fiber market. This isn’t just a connectivity push, it’s an education push.
Indeed, Google did the same in Austin and saw great results. The company worked with HACA, EveryoneOn.org, Austin Free-Net, and Austin Community College to enroll residents in digital literacy classes and help them access computers for free.
Google says that at Manchaca Village, the first public housing property to get free Internet and courses, over 90 percent of residents signed up and more than half completed digital literacy training. If it can replicate those results in other neighborhoods, that will be a huge accomplishment.