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September 02, 2014

Google Location Selection Process Under Fire For Alleged 'Cherry-Picking'



By Casey Houser
Contributing Writer



The spread of gigabit-speed Internet is one of the sensations currently sweeping the U.S. Both consumers and businesses are interested in the capability of broadband that is leagues faster than what they can currently access, and several private entities and governmental institutions are making this a reality for them through well-known, telecom-controlled fiber networks and through patches of dark fiber sometimes owned or leased by municipalities.

Arguably, the pioneer of this movement is Google (News - Alert) Fiber. It began in Kansas City, Kan., in 2011, and since then it has moved to several cities and has begun considering expansion to many others. Its selection process is under fire, however, not just in how it chooses cities as a whole but in how it chooses where to deploy services within cities themselves. A recent blog post from Bidness makes known the practice of creating "fiberhoods" -- the segregated areas of cities where Google has installed fiber connections -- and it makes an example out of Kansas City.

"The prime issue is Google's approach towards dividing a particular region into specific areas where the service would be available," the Bidness post points out. "For instance, in Kansas City, the company has segregated the entire city into limited areas of a few hundreds of homes that Google calls, 'fiberhoods.' "

Before installing the infrastructure necessary to complete a fiber network within a city, Google first determines the interest level of areas within such cities. If areas pass a certain threshold, they may receive service; if they do not pass the threshold, they may be left off the service map. Bidness points to construction challenges and population levels as two other factors that sway the selection process. It calls the selection process a "hand picking" of who will and will not receive the ultra-fast broadband.

This has raised criticism about whether or not Google is leaving out neighborhoods that have populations with lower socio-economic statuses -- a practice Google denies doing. It even points to the 19 of 20 low-income areas of Kansas City that qualified for service.

TMC (News - Alert) has discussed criticisms of the service before. In San Antonio, critics of Google Fiber say that, even if a low-income neighborhood is selected for service, people within that section of a city may still be unable to afford service. There is a "free" option that will provide service to people who cannot afford the standard pricing models, but opponents even criticize that option because it still costs $10 to register for the privilege. For some, that could mean a meal ticket they cannot afford to give up.

Criticisms abound, but it is clear that Google Fiber is spreading across the U.S. and that many people, despite the critics, want to have the broadband come to their locations. Many cities are bidding for the next rollout of service, and San Antonio, Texas, TMC noted back in June, was one of those cities which is part of the next generation. According to Bidness, Google appears willing to work with cities to conquer some of these issues that create a "digital divide" such as providing slower services to certain areas and schools that city officials request.

 
 
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