Technology

Google Fiber targeting $15 broadband plan for poorer Kansas City area neighborhoods

Google Fiber has ditched a “free” Internet plan, but will offer high-speed service at a discount in some neighborhoods where access to the Web is rare.
Google Fiber has ditched a “free” Internet plan, but will offer high-speed service at a discount in some neighborhoods where access to the Web is rare. The Kansas City Star

Google Fiber has shifted from a “free”-and-slow Internet offer to, for some disadvantaged neighborhoods, a relatively fast-and-cheap alternative.

The company said Monday that it plans to sell Internet speeds of 25 megabits per second — about double the national average — for $15 a month. Most American customers pay between $35 and $50 a month for service.

But the company said that service will be available only to neighborhoods identified, using Census and Federal Communications Commission figures, as places where relatively few people have home Internet access.

In doing so, the company said it hopes to bridge the so-called digital divide that has left many families behind as Internet access becomes increasingly commonplace for middle-class and wealthy homes. In February, Google said it would provide free ultra-fast Internet service to several public housing complexes in the Kansas City market in league with an Obama administration initiative.

This month, Google quietly revealed in its pitch to potential new customers that it would no longer offer a “free” Internet service.

The company first began selling Internet hookups in Kansas City, Kan., in 2012. The service was the first in the country to market industrial-strength broadband at consumer prices. Customers pay $70 a month for unlimited Internet traffic over fiber optic lines that move data at 1 gigabit per second — roughly 100 times speedier than the national average.

It also offered what it billed as free service. Customers could pay a $300 installation fee in $25 monthly payments and receive uploads at 1 megabit per second and downloads of 5 megabits per second for seven years.

New customers in eastern Johnson County, where actual hookups could be a year or more away, don’t have that option. Residents in neighborhoods where Google is already selling connections have until May 19 to choose that option.

After May 19, that bargain rate evaporates. Instead, Google will sell the $15 service “basic” service to neighborhoods it will identify by that time, the company said.

“We’ll be introducing a new plan for the most digitally divided neighborhoods we serve on both sides of the state line,” the company said in an email to prospective customers. “If you think the Basic plan ($300 for seven years of slow speeds) may be right for you, there’s still time. You can sign up until May 19.”

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The company said the $15 service will come without an installation fee or a contract, meaning customers can cancel at any time.

Scott Canon: 816-234-4754, @ScottCanon

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