Google Fiber says it's going to give away its high speed Internet service to thousands of low-income Americans across the country who can't afford gigabit broadband. Starting with its Kansas City market, Google Fiber eventually plans to wire "select" public housing buildings in all of the cities where it operates, the company said.
Service will be switched on Wednesday for the West Bluff Townhomes community in Kansas City, Mo. Ultimately, as many as 1,300 households in Kansas City, Mo. and Kansas City, Kan. will get a free subscription to Google Fiber's 1,000 Mbps service, enabling those users to download the equivalent of an HD movie in about 7 seconds.
By comparison, most Americans receive an average download speed of 12 Mbps, with peaks speeds of 57 Mbps, according to the networking firm Akamai.
Based on the current cost of a gigabit subscription, Google Fiber will be giving away more than $1 million a year worth of Internet service to Kansas City residents alone.
Google Fiber already provides free service to low-income residents of Austin, Texas. But it doesn't offer them gigabit speeds, requiring those users to pay to upgrade to the next level. Wednesday's announcement takes things further by committing Google Fiber to providing its fastest service to some of America's poorest communities.
It's all part of a wider plan by the White House aimed at connecting the disconnected. Last summer, President Obama launched a pilot project known as ConnectHome that vowed to link 275,000 low-income households to the Internet. As part of that move, Google Fiber said it would selectively provide free broadband to certain public housing units. Wednesday's announcement reflects the company's follow-through on that promise.
It may also help parent company Alphabet, which owns Google. The more people are connected to the Web, the more likely those people will use Google's online services, which ultimately benefits Google's primary business, search and advertising.
Google Fiber itself is noteworthy as a moneymaker for Alphabet. Alphabet told investors this week Google Fiber was responsible for bringing in much of the revenue associated with its "Other Bets," which include its costly driverless car project and its experimental drone delivery service. Those and other research projects wound up costing Alphabet more than $3.5 billion last year, despite the $448 million of revenue brought in by Fiber, Nest and Verily, Alphabet's life-sciences program.
But while Google Fiber's decision to give away some of its broadband service may stem partly from self-interest, it's still granting high-speed access to those who stand to benefit from it most. For schoolchildren, it might finally mean being able to do homework from, well, home. For job-seekers, it could mean finding leads and filing applications electronically for the first time. In today's digital economy, that could make a big difference for many who have otherwise been excluded.