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Google Fiber's Reach Growing, Moving Slowly Toward Schools

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By guest blogger Michelle R. Davis

Google's super-fast Internet service known as Google Fiber is coming to four new areas, the company announced this week. But will it be coming soon to a school near you?

So far, Google's emphasis seems to be on getting Google Fiber into what it is calling "Fiberhoods"—neighborhood areas designated by the company. Once enough consumers preregister for the service, Google will bring the network to these areas. But connecting schools themselves doesn't appear to be a top priority. A number of schools are in line to get Google Fiber soon, but have not yet received the service.

Google Fiber offers up to one gigabyte per second of Internet speed, up to 100 times faster than basic broadband. The intent is to "transform cities," according to the Google Fiber blog post this week announcing the expansion of the service to Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, and the Raleigh-Durham, N.C. area. Google Fiber is already in place in the Kansas City, Mo. area; Provo, Utah and Austin, where the service costs about $70 per month.

In an attempt to get service to low-income areas, Google also offers a slightly slower version that's free for seven years after customers pay a $300 installation fee. As part of its "Community Connections" program, Google is offering free Google Fiber to central community locations where residents may be introduced to the service and make use of it. Many of these sites are community centers, libraries, universities, and museums. A few are K-12 schools.

In Charlotte, city officials were swooning over the announcement that Google Fiber was coming to their town and Mayor Dan Clodfelter called it "a major win for our city" during a press conference. But Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools don't expect to be first on the list to be connected to the ultra high-speed service, said Valerie Truesdale, the chief of technology, personalization, and engagement for the 144,000-student district.

Truesdale, who met with Google officials this week, said the company's focus is on neighborhoods and small businesses. But Google is putting a focus on helping to connect students who might not have broadband Internet access—or have less robust connections than Google Fiber offers—at home. This dovetails with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg district's new 1-to-1 Chromebook initiative for middle schoolers, which will put 32,000 devices in the hands of students.

"When they develop a Fiberhood, they will be targeting communities that don't have a lot of broadband access now," Truesdale said. So far, students are not permitted to take their Chromebooks home, but that may be in the cards for the future. Without these Fiberhoods, "these students might be going home to houses without connectivity," she said.

Truesdale said Google hopes to get the district to help with outreach to low-income families who might benefit from the service. And Google doesn't appear to be seeking to take over district broadband service themselves, she said. "We are in the final stages of renewing our broadband contract and I asked if we should pause," Truesdale said. "They said no."

That may be because Google Fiber "may not be 100 percent suited to schools," said Evan Marwell, the CEO of Education SuperHighway, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that advocates improved school Internet connections. It may be difficult to comply with school filtering requirements, for example, mandated by federal law and school networking can be complex, he said.

In the Kansas City Public Schools, Executive Director of Technology Thomas E. Brenneman said in an email that the district is working closely with Google Fiber to bring additional Internet capacity to schools and the district's central office, but that it does not plan to drop its current Internet provider. The Google services "will be used to augment our MoreNet Internet service," Brenneman wrote, adding that the district views "Google as a critical partner as we develop our technology-based initiatives."

In the 85,000-student Austin Independent Public Schools, spokesman Jacob Barrett said the district's application for getting connected to Google Fiber has been filed. He said district schools as a group will not get connected but that "if there is a Fiberhood near a middle or high school then that school will be connected," he said. The district already has a one gigabyte Internet connection, which it will keep, but would use Google Fiber to expand bandwidth.

"Expanded bandwidth means more opportunities for students,"  he said. "Google Fiber is an opportunity to provide that technology to our schools."

But Michelle Gronk, a spokeswoman for the 19,500-student North Kansas city schools, said her district already has an Internet connection similar to what is being offered by Google and doesn't plan to tap into Google Fiber. The district provider, DataShack, is run by alumni, she said and to bring Google Fiber into the district would add costs. "Our current partnership is more cost beneficial," she said.


Photo credit: Valerie Truesdale, the chief of technology, personalization, and engagement for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. school district.

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