Google Fiber is known for providing high-speed gigabit internet service to the residents of Austin, but since its introduction to the city in April 2013, the company has also strived to encourage digital literacy and increase access to internet throughout local communities.
A recent report released by Google Fiber shows the impact it has made through its partnerships with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, Austin Free-Net and Skillpoint Alliance. Of those statistics, one that stands out is the 10,000 hours of digital literacy training Google Fiber and its partners have provided to Austin residents.
“From the earliest days of Google Fiber through today, we’ve seen the transformational power of local partnerships and how access to superfast internet and all the tools that come with it can drive progress in communities,” said Daniel Lucio, community impact manager for Google Fiber. “With up to a gigabit connection and local educational support, the possibilities go far beyond the bare minimum.”
According to Google Fiber and the American Library Association, digital literacy requires both cognitive and technical skills and is the ability to use technology to find, create and communicate information. Digital literacy can also include basic computer and internet skills, such as the ability to search for jobs online, use social media and practice internet safety.
But for many Austin residents, the high cost of devices and lack of computer skills present obstacles to getting online, Google Fiber officials said. To combat this, Google Fiber and HACA have connected three properties serving 337 households to Google Fiber internet service at no cost and have helped 530 Austin residents earn a refurbished device through device donations provided by Austin Community College. The two organizations also work with area nonprofits, such as Austin Free-Net and Skillpoint Alliance, to provide digital literacy training to an average of 88 people each month.
“Google Fiber has been an amazing partner on so many levels,” said Catherine Crago, HACA strategic initiatives and resource development manager. “The key thing is their understanding of connectivity between a device and digital literacy. That is what transforms a population, which is good for everyone.”
Google Fiber-led initiatives, such as Made with Code and Create Your World, seek to reignite a passion for science among young girls. On March 24, Google Fiber, in association with the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders and local nonprofit Latinitas, held a film screening of “Hidden Figures,” the story of the three African-American women instrumental in launching astronaut John Glenn into orbit, followed by a coding activity for Ann Richards students at its space in downtown Austin.
“Austinites will be able to get online to finish homework, find jobs, apply for college and truly get connected,” Lucio said. “The next generation of developers, engineers and entrepreneurs may come from our very own communities.”
South Austin nonprofit River City Youth Foundation has also benefited from Google Fiber through its Community Connections Program. Launched in 2013, the Google Fiber-led initiative will eventually provide free internet access to 100 public facilities and nonprofits citywide. River City Youth Foundation was one of the first to receive the service.
According to Oné Musel-Gilley, founder of the nonprofit’s Dove Springs Coding Academy, without Google Fiber, the academy would not exist.
“In the past when we didn’t have Google Fiber, our upload and download speeds were very challenging,” Musel-Gilley said. “When we had special events, we had to purchase additional bandwidth or hot spots to provide Wi-Fi, which can get very expensive.”
Established in summer 2016, the academy aims to increase the number of young people pursuing careers in computer science by offering coding programs at no cost for children who qualify. The foundation services families in the Dove Springs neighborhood, one of the most undeserved areas in Austin, Musel-Gilley said.
“To be able to bring the community a year-round coding program for low-income children, the majority of them minorities, is a big deal,” she said.