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Poor Areas Of K.C. May Miss Google Fiber's First Wave

Google's selective "fiberhood" rally process for building out 1 Gbps broadband to areas of Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., could leave low-income residents without access to the next-generation service initially.

With 10 days left before Google Fiber's Sept. 9 registration deadline, most sections of the eastern half of Kansas City, Mo., have not met the company's required preregistration thresholds to be eligible for fiber connectivity, according to a map on the Google Fiber website.

The split on preregistrations for Google Fiber in Missouri shows a "strong correlation" between rich and poor neighborhoods, the Kansas City Star reported in an Aug. 24 article. "It does not have the feel of the universal access that was part of the initial description," Karen Hostetler, a resident of the East Argentine section of Kansas City, Kan., told the newspaper.

In an interview earlier this month with Multichannel News, Google Access general manager Kevin Lo said its franchise agreements with the Kansas City communities allowed the company to focus on "process improvements, working closely with the cities so that we could build quickly, efficiently and effectively."

Lo added, "If you want to talk about the digital divide, 25% of Kansas Citians have no broadband at home. ... We want to materially help move the needle."

Google Fiber is challenging incumbent broadband and TV providers in Kansas City, including Time Warner Cable -- which is in the midst of boosting its workforce 9% in the market -- AT&T, SureWest Communications and, to a limited extent, Comcast.

Between 10% and 25% of a neighborhood's residents must register for Google Fiber to make the cut for the first round of fiber-to-the-premises construction. Google is charging a $10 registration fee for area residents to get in line for Google Fiber, although if a neighborhood isn't selected for the initial buildout Google will refund the fee.

As of Aug. 31, 78 neighborhoods on the Missouri side of the line -- 61% of the eligible areas -- have met the Google Fiber preregistration goal. In Kansas City, Kan., 59 "fiberhoods," or 80% of all eligible areas, have hit their targets. The company expects to begin connecting homes in the weeks after the Sept. 9 deadline.

Google is offering 1-Gbps Internet access, which is more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have today, for $70 per month with a one-year contract and $120 per month as part of a broadband/TV bundle with a two-year contract. Users also have the option to get 5 Mbps downstream Internet access for no monthly charge for at least seven years, if they pay a one-time $300 "construction fee" or pay $25 per month for 12 months.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Google provided additional information about set-top box rates and early-termination fees.

The first TV box plus the Google Nexus 7 tablet, which functions as a remote control, are included for free in the Gigabit + TV package. Additional set-tops are $5 each per month for 24 months; customers also have the option to purchase TV boxes for $120 each. Extra boxes include a standard remote control but not a tablet.

According to Google, customers may cancel service any time before the company begins construction in their neighborhood (while the $10 registration fee is nonrefundable). Those who cancel service post-installation must pay back the $300 construction fee, prorated at $25 per month remaining on the first year of service. Customers that have paid the construction fee in full would owe nothing.

Google Fiber TV customers who cancel service before their two-year term is up must return their set-top devices "in good working order" within 45 days of cancellation; otherwise Google may charge a prorated amount based on the value of the devices.