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Is Google Fiber Discriminatory?

Google Fiber gets a thumbs up for racial diversity. But on every other measure of diversity for communities Google Fiber is either serving or plans to serve it falls flat.
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Google Fiber is the search giant's much-hyped entry into the broadband Internet Service Provider market. Available in only a few cities, Google Fiber delivers blazing broadband speeds of 1000Mbps - about 100 times faster than today's basic speeds. It does so for a fraction of the cost. In launching the service and deliberately rolling it out, Google has stated one of the purposes of the fiber program is to serve diverse communities. Wrote Google on this subject, "These cities are led by people who have been working hard to bring faster Internet speeds and the latest technologies to their residents. We believe these are communities who will do amazing things with a gig. And they are diverse -- not just geographically, but in the ways they'll give us opportunities to learn about the wide range of challenges and obstacles that communities might face in trying to build a new fiber network."

This made us wonder exactly how the existing and planned Google Fiber coverage rated in terms of diversity across several key parameters: race, age, and level of education. diverse. So we built a dataset of the 50 announced current, upcoming and potential Google Fiber locations. So the data team at Silk mapped those communities against U.S. Census tract data and then compared the city data against statewide and national averages for those diversity measures. The results were, to say the least, interesting.

Does Google Fiber Serve the Rich or the Poor?

Looking at household incomes and citizens living below the poverty level it is clear most cities on the Google Fiber map are relatively affluent. About 75% of the currently selected Fiber cities have above state average median household incomes and below state average poor populations. Yes, there are poor residents of those Google Fiber cities but those areas certainly do not fit the definition of economically disadvantaged.

Does Google Fiber Equally Serve Whites and Other Races?

We focused on racial analysis on the four biggest groups in the census data. We looked at each city's make up of white (non-hispanic), black, hispanic and asian populations. About two thirds of the communities are predominantly white. This nearly matches the national average of 62.6% of communities being predominantly white. The white population of these cities ranged from a low of 12% to a high of 93%. To get a better proxy for the diversity of the Google Fiber cities, we compared each city's white population figure with the state average. From this we learned that most of the communities have comparatively smaller white populations than the state's average. So Google Fiber is not racist.

Does Google Fiber Serve the Young and the Old?

Senior citizens and children are more likely to be hungry or receive a lesser share of public services. Does this extend to Google Fiber? Yes, to some degree. In the majority of Google Fiber cities, citizens 18 years and younger make up smaller portions of the populace than the state averages. At the same time, the communities of seniors are also disproportionately smaller. Only 6 out of 50 Fiber locations will have at or above national average proportions of senior citizens.

Does Google Fiber Serve The Educated and Uneducated Equally?

Another indicator the census data allowed us to analyze is the education level of the residents of the various Google Fiber cities. The percentage of people with higher education in these cities was considerably above the national and state averages. Out of all 50 Fiber communities, 41 had a significantly higher percentage of college graduates residents than the respective state averages.

The Conclusion: Google Fiber Is Fast But Unfair

Google Fiber gets a thumbs up for racial diversity. But on every other measure of diversity for communities Google Fiber is either serving or plans to serve it falls flat. There are likely myriad business case reasons for Google's selection of fiber cities. Those might include local political environment, ease of access to right-of-ways for laying fiber cables, and insufficient service from existing providers. Everyone wants superfast Internet in their neighborhood, particularly when it costs a lot less than even less speedy variants from other broadband ISPs in the cable and telephone universe. Fast Internet could mean a better chance at remote jobs and easier telecommuting, among other benefits. For Google to live up to the stated purpose of Google Fiber, however, it should pick future locations that are more diverse across incomes, ages, and education levels.

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