During the week, Margaret J. May is the executive director of the Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council in midtown. But on Saturday, she became a cheerleader for Google Fiber.
Tonight is the deadline for neighborhoods to qualify for the service, so May and others on the neighborhood council spent several hours Saturday beneath a blue tent at 37th Street and Woodland Avenue, cajoling residents and passers-by to register for the high-speed fiberoptic Internet network.
“Come on! Sign up for Google Fiber,” May yelled as a white SUV rolled by. “Sign up for Google Fiber.”
Google officials sent teams of recruiters to various neighborhoods in both Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan. to encourage households to sign up for the service, which will have its nationwide debut in the Kansas City area.
Special emphasis was placed on the urban core, where Google officials say it has been a challenge to sign up potential customers. Registrants had to pay a one-time $10 fee.
Google plans to string the area with fiberoptic cable capable of delivering 1 gigabit of data per second to homes in the 202 eligible “fiberhoods.” But if neighborhoods fail to meet sign-up thresholds — established by Google and designed to take the wires only where demand is greatest — they risk missing out on the service. That means the company’s promise to provide free Internet to schools and other organizations in those areas would evaporate.
Once the service is rolled out, residents will have the option of signing two-year contracts to pay $120 a month for high-speed Internet and television service. The high-speed Internet connection alone, sold in one-year deals, will cost $70.
Households also could opt for a flat installation fee of $300, paid at $25 monthly for a year, to get a far-slower-speed Internet service for seven years at no further cost.
Recruitment seemed to be working. The number of fiberhoods that met the registration threshold was 131 by Thursday, 138 by Friday and 149 by early evening Saturday.
The deadline is today at midnight. The areas proving most stubbornly difficult to get over the hump were also the least prosperous — mostly east of Troost Avenue in Kansas City and scattered pockets of Kansas City, Kan.
May said she wanted to make sure her Ivanhoe neighbors get in on the action.
“We are working hard we because know the benefits and we don’t want to be left out,” she said.
May was relentless, and her persuasiveness appeared to pay dividends throughout the morning. Paula Williams, one of several residents who registered, said the connection would benefit her and her grandchildren.
“I am trying to learn how to use the Internet,” Williams said. “They say I am behind the times.”
Another was Kevin Jackson, who needed some extra convincing.
“I know you want to help out this old lady,” May joked with Jackson. “You just wanted to give us a hard time.”
Jackson laughed before reaching into his pants pockets to pull out the money.
“Kevin, I know you love Ivanhoe,” May said.
A Google representative then tried to hand Jackson a Rice Krispies treat, but he shrugged it off.
“I’ve got a beer and they don’t go together,” Jackson said.
Google spokeswoman Jenna Wandres said the company brought in more recruiters to fan out for a last-ditch effort this weekend. There were more than two dozen events Saturday. A similar effort is planned for today.
“We are all over Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., with tons of events,” she said. “And these conversations pay off. It’s really what you have to do to reach people who are not online.”
About 25 percent of Kansas City residents do not have home access to broadband Internet service, and the sign-up effort is one way to bridge the digital divide that affects many in the urban core, Wandres said.
“If you are not online today, you are at a disadvantage,” she said. “It is impossible to apply for a job without the Internet. It is essential for education now — kids need the Internet to do research projects. It also gives them the skills they will need in college.”
At the annual Fiesta Hispana at Berkley Riverfront Park, Google representatives handed out free Shatto Ice Cream Sammiches to encourage families to register.
Joey Jaramillo of Kansas City, Kan., said he had registered earlier through his Delaware Highlands Neighborhood Association. Jaramillo said it is important for his family to have the service.At a sign-up table at the Mazuma Credit Union on Blue Parkway, the credit union sold customers a $10 prepaid debit card to help them register, because Google does not accept cash or checks.
Brandon Michaels, the credit union’s CEO and president, said many residents in the urban core do not have credit cards. This was one way the credit union could help bridge the digital divide, Michaels said.
“The gap is going to get wider and wider,” he said.