Google Fiber to offer free Internet service in Nashville public housing

As part of President Obama’s new broadband initiative, Google Fiber will be offering free Internet access and devices to select public housing properties in Nashville.

The ConnectHome initiative, led by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will be rolled out in 27 cities and is expected to reach nearly 275,000 low-income households nationwide through public and private sector partners.

In Nashville, Google Fiber will work with local community groups to provide computer labs and digital literacy programs, with a focus on K-12 students. Other local partners include the American Library Association, Public Broadcasting Service, The College Board, Age of Learning Inc. and GitHub.

ConnectHome is meant to address the nation’s digital divide that affects students’ and families’ educational resources at home. The program builds on Obama’s ConnectED initiative, which seeks to connect K-12 students’ classrooms and libraries to high-speed broadband.

“When students’ futures are on the line, every student should have every tool they need to do well,” National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients said. “All students need reliable, affordable Internet access both at school and at home… ConnectHome will help bridge the digital divide at its widest point.”

Across the U.S., more than 74 percent of homes have Internet access. In the wealthiest statistical areas Internet adoption rates range between 80 and 90 percent, compared to close to 50 percent in the lowest median income areas, according to data released today by the Council of Economic Advisers.

In Nashville, 44 percent of students attending Metro Nashville Public Schools do not have access to the Internet at home, according to the most recent survey.

ConnectHome partners expect to connect more than 5,200 Nashville homes, half of which have children, and nearly 12,000 individuals.

The housing department, which is not funding the program, forecasts the program will draw $70 million from nonprofit, local government and private sector partners over the next several years. Participating cities are not required to fund ConnectHome and Metro government has not allocated funds.

Metropolitan Development and Housing Authority has not determined how many or which of its 20 public housing properties will gain free Google Fiber access. The MDHA will be working Google Fiber, the city and other local organizations on those decisions, said MDHA spokeswoman Jamie Berry.

“Internet connection is more important than ever,” Berry said. “It’s where people go to apply for jobs, do their homework and find health information. We are very excited about this opportunity for our residents.”

Nashville and other cites were selected based on local commitment to broadband expansion and programs underway, according to U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro. Success of the program will be measured by how many families gain access through the initiative and the educational impact on students overtime, he said.

Google Fiber has already begun working with the Martha O’Bryan Center and the Nashville Public Library to boost digital literacy and has designated two fellows to lead local efforts.

Other private companies involved include Sprint, Cox Communications, Cherokee Communications, Pine Telephone, Suddenlink Communications, Vyve Broadband and CenturyLink. While Google Fiber is the only local Internet provider working on the initiative, other Internet companies and device suppliers are encouraged to join, Zients said.

Google Fiber will be carrying out similar efforts in Atlanta, Durham and Kansas City. The program will be modeled after similar initiatives underway in Austin that involve the city’s housing authority, nonprofit groups and Austin Community College.

Access to free Internet and computer training will help put lower income students on a more level playing field with middle class peers, said Michael Gross, Martha O’Bryan chief program officer.

“The need is pretty big,” Gross said. “The gap is widening between middle class kids and poor kids and they need every tool they can get to bridge that divide.”

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