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Google Fiber chooses 2nd low-income housing complex to receive free internet

SALT LAKE CITY — Science fiction writer H.G. Wells once predicted that humanity would “pull the mind of the world together” in a kind of futuristic encyclopedia that would contain all knowledge.

Today, we might just call that the internet.

On Friday, Google Fiber partnered with Salt Lake City and the Utah Non-Profit Housing Corporation to bring that sum of all human knowledge a little closer to some lucky families.

The internet service provider chose Riverwood Cove Apartments in Salt Lake City as the location for Utah’s second “gigabit community,” to provide Riverwood’s low-income residents with quick, gigabit internet, free of cost.

Google Fiber connected 60 out of 110 families in the complex Friday and will connect more later in the week. Families in the complex could normally expect to pay $70 a month for their internet plan.

Google Fiber’s first gigabit community in Utah was established at Lorna Doone Apartments in September 2016, also in partnership with Utah Non-Profit Housing Corporation. Lorna Doone now boasts 100 percent internet connectivity.

When asked why the company chose to partner with the local nonprofit, Jacob Brace, community impact manager for Google Fiber, explained, “We look at our potential partners by way of their standing in the community, the households that they have a relationship with, and their interests, and capabilities of providing digital literacy and digital support through computer labs, on-site training and access.”

The housing corporation hopes to eventually see 100 percent connectivity in all its 53 housing developments, according to Ginger Tolman, the corporation’s regional director for community partnership and education. The organization’s beta program focuses on four apartment complexes, including Salt Lake’s Riverwood, Lorna Doone and Dominguez Park, as well as Willow Park in West Valley City.

The nonprofit also partners with PCs for People, which offers tenants desktop computers for as little as $10, and Comcast, which has provided some low-income families with low-cost internet.

“It’s nice on our end to still have multiple partners so we can still achieve those goals. And they’ve all been great and we love all of them,” Tolman said. "It’s really great to see these kind of public-private partnerships occur where we can make that happen.”

Bridging the digital divide is just part of preparing for a larger educational initiative to help tenants with employment and schooling, according to Tolman. If they can help their residents become tech savvy, tasks like job training and online assignments will become immeasurably easier.

“We really want to focus on getting parents involved with their kids’ homework," Tolman said. "We have one woman (at Lorna Doone Apartments) going back to school in design, and so we were just able to get her a computer and connectivity, and it’s making everything easier for her. She can complete her school, she can help her daughter with her homework. So to watch those kind of cases occur is really inspiring.”

Google Fiber does not have any immediate plans to create more gigabit communities at any other complexes in Utah, but the nonprofit housing corporation will continue to work with other partners to bring the internet to low-income tenants.

“We won’t be done until we connect everybody,” Tolman said.

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