The deadline for Kansas City residents to sign up for Google's new high-speed Internet network expired Sunday night. But for now, not everyone will reap the benefits.
In a blog post, Google said about 180 of 202 neighborhoods met the registration benchmark required to show there was enough interest in the new broadband service, known as Google Fiber. Community activists say the neighborhoods that appeared unlikely to qualify for the service were mostly low-income.
The first homes are expected to receive Google Fiber this fall. Neighborhoods that didn't meet the registration requirement will have another chance to sign up "sometime next year," the company said.
In July, Google announced its debut as an Internet service provider in Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., which beat more than 1,100 cities in a competition to be the first to receive the company's new ultra-fast broadband network.
But the company's rollout of its broadband network has touched off a debate in Kansas City over the so-called digital divide -- those who have access to the Web and those who don't. While more affluent Kansas City neighborhoods quickly met the sign-up requirement, several lower-income areas were slow to register, prompting concerns they would be left out.
Google said it had "been working hard to get the word out" about its service.
"Over the past six weeks, we've worked side-by-side with many amazing community organizations to try and lessen the digital divide, and spread the word that access to the Internet is an essential element of everyday life," the company said in a blog post.
Google said it would also be issuing grants to local agencies to promote digital literacy.
But some community activists said the six-week window to sign up was too short and low-income residents faced barriers to registering, such as a requirement that they own a debit card and pay $10, according to Michael Liimatta, president of Connecting for Good, a Kansas City nonprofit group that advocates for equal broadband access.
Many residents were also not aware of the benefits of broadband, he said.
"There were a lot of people who don't understand Google Fiber and frankly don't understand why they need the Internet," Liimatta said.
Google's ultra-fast Web connection -- which the company says is up to 100 times faster than what many Americans receive today -- will cost $70 a month, or $120 with a TV package.
But the company also gave customers the option to receive basic broadband Internet -- a 5-megabit connection -- for free for seven years after paying a $300 fee, or monthly installments of $25, to cover construction costs.
By Sunday night, about 32 percent of people in the neighborhoods that qualified for Google Fiber were black, while just over 54 percent were white, Andrew Beveridge, a sociology professor at Queens College in New York City, told The New York Times. Google said it was still counting how many people registered and would have a final list of qualifying neighborhoods on Thursday.
Aaron Deacon, president of the Social Media Club of Kansas City, said many residents couldn't afford to pay the $10 pre-registration fee, or did not own a computer at home. Deacon launched a fundraising effort that generated more than $11,000 to help low-income Kansas City neighborhoods pay the pre-registration fee to meet the requirement.
Deacon said if Google had extended the deadline another week, every neighborhood in the city would have met the registration benchmark.
According to Deacon, the rollout of Google Fiber has sparked a discussion in Kansas City about the importance of Internet access and understanding how to use computers.
"It's priority now in a way that it wasn't just a year ago," he said.