Despite the recent corporate upheaval at Google Fiber, which included a halt on its expansion into nearly a dozen cities, the tech giant has confirmed that the changes won’t impact its continued rollout in Atlanta.
According to Fabiola Charles Stokes, Google Fiber’s community impact director, the city’s reputation as a burgeoning tech center was a draw from the start of their multi-city outreach. “There were a ton of opportunities,” she noted. “It’s a research and business rich environment. Even the film industry is booming here. We knew the market would really benefit from having fast service.”
The company’s ongoing investment in its Atlanta infrastructure makes good business sense, even beyond the immediate growth of the city’s tech sector. By partnering with a mix of business leaders, city officials, and non-profit groups, Google Fiber is engaging diverse stakeholders to close the digital divide. Shortly after Google Fiber’s launch announcement in January 2015, the Mayor’s office made a priority of providing access and building digital literacy for under-served communities throughout the greater metro area.
“In this digital age when you can apply for a job, take a course, and pay your bills online,” said Christina Cruz-Benton, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s office. “The Internet is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”
When Google Fiber began serving customers in August 2016, Stokes noted, it kicked off a number of programs tied to individuals and community groups, as well as small business owners.
“One of the cornerstones of our outreach in all our cities is Google Fiber’s Digital Inclusion Fellowship program,” Stokes said. “We partner with NTEN, an organization of non-profit technology professionals, and bring mid-career technologists to non-profit organizations and faith-based institutions, to help build out sustainable digital inclusion programming, and deliver computer skills training.”
Google Fiber trains the Fellows in delivery and methodology, pairs them to host organizations with deep roots in the communities, and pays them a salary for a year’s commitment. Once situated with their hosts, Fellows set up public programs and build training classes to teach participants how to leverage online resources.
The Atlanta program has just launched its third cohort of Fellows. So far, nearly 60,000 community participants have logged over 19,000 hours of free digital literacy instruction. Fellows have also trained more than 500 volunteers and staff from partner organizations, in order to ensure local programs are sustained long past the completion of their tenures.
One of Google Fiber’s large-scale accomplishments is taking place in recreation centers across the city. In partnership with Atlanta’s Parks and Recreation department, Fiber has refurbished 10 computer labs and launched training programs. Named Centers of Hope, these digital hubs are in communities where access has been limited or non-existent.
Cruz-Benton understands the far-reaching implications of the hubs, and suggests that more are on the way: “Partnerships, like the one with Google and the tech labs they’ve created, definitely serves as an important conduit for preparing our young people for the many tech jobs that are right here in the City of Atlanta.”
Regardless of its own growing pains, it appears that Google Fiber is betting on Atlanta; and in committing to inclusive access and literacy, the city is taking that to the bank.