The Rev. Frank Stevenson, of Nashville, Tennessee, has heard all about Google Fiber’s much-ballyhooed fast new high-speed internet service for residents and business owners in his hometown, and a smattering of other cities across the nation.
The new gigabit internet service is a big deal because it’s much faster than the average global broadband. Google Fiber, it is slated to provide broadband and cable television to a small and growing number residents and businesses in Nashville; Atlanta; Austin and San Antonio, Texas; Provo and Salt Lake City, Utah; and Charlotte and Raleigh–Durham, North Carolina.
But Stevenson, chief minister at St. Luke’s Primitive Baptist Church, and other Black pastors, want to know if poor Blacks and Hispanics will be included in the wave of new technology or become victims of digital redlining, writes The Tennessean.
Indeed, it’s a reasonable concern. After decades, some poor people of color are just gaining access to the regular old-fashioned broadband, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
“An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that even though Internet access has improved in recent years, families in poor areas are almost five times more likely not to have access to high-speed broadband than the most affluent American households,” the report says. “That means no access to online jobs, and no access to health care advice, education, government services and banking — everything needed to be a full participant in today’s society. This harsh reality has led to a new kind of segregation.”
But in response to Stevenson’s concern, Google Fiber officials say they are doing enough by providing Digital Inclusion Fellowships, which help improve digital skills, and by its involvement the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s ConnectHome initiative, which is working to improve the digital divide.
“We are not participating in digital redlining at all,” Fabiola Charles Stokes, Google Fiber’s Atlanta community impact manager, tells NewsOne. “A lot of times it’s just a matter of timelines. In Atlanta, for example, we’ve only been in Atlanta for six months, so it’s still only available in a limited area.”
She said installation is a multi-phased process that can take several months.
“We would love to be able to snap our fingers and have service to the entire city at once,” but it’s not technologically feasible, Stokes said.
Still, that comes as little solace to Stevenson and other faith leaders, who want to ensure that future generations are not encumbered by digital redlining. As of 2013, about 44 percent of Metro students’ homes and 54,000 households in the Nashville area were not connected which limit, “their technology skills and their ability to complete homework assignments,” writes The Tennessean.
“We want our children to have all the privilege, all the rights and the opportunities to succeed just like anyone,” the Rev. Breonus Mitchell said, notes the report.
Meanwhile, several new apartment buildings have been connected to the gigabit speed service, including Edgehill Apartments and Salama Urban Ministries, Stokes said. Officials have partnered with nonprofits, including churches, public housing authorities, and schools, to ensure “we are being good corporate community partners for all of the citizens in our fiber cities.”
But John Burnett, a New York City-based entrepreneur and cyber pundit, tells NewsOne he is skeptical.
“Google fiber-optic is so innovative that the company takes redlining to a new level: digital racism,” he said in an email comment. “The executive decision to cleverly tip-toe along the regulatory policies governing redlining to consciously avoid communities of color is deplorable. Some people will get broadband, while others get ‘blackband,’ which increases the digital divide.”