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U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro visited the West Bluff public housing complex in Kansas City on Wednesday to announce the first of 1,300 area families in subsidized housing who will receive free or reduced-cost super-fast Internet connections
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U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro visited the West Bluff public housing complex in Kansas City on Wednesday to announce the first of 1,300 area families in subsidized housing who will receive free or reduced-cost super-fast Internet connections
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Technology

Google Fiber’s ‘free’ Internet service will disappear soon in KC market

By Scott Canon

scanon@kcstar.com

April 10, 2016 04:27 PM

Google Fiber called its low-end Internet service free. It wasn’t actually free, but it was a bargain.

Now it’s going away.

Customers who already signed up for the slow-but-steady Internet hook-ups can keep the deal: $300 the first year and nothing the following six years for speeds of up to 5 megabits per second.

Although that service offers slow connections that produce frustrating buffering on streaming services, it’s much cheaper than almost anything else available in the country.

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But customers in eastern Johnson County, where Google Fiber has just opened up sign-ups, aren’t being offered the bargain. It’s missing from the latest posting on Google Fiber’s sign-up page. Actual installation in that area could be more than a year away, based on the speed of the company’s rollout.

Instead of that so-called free service, the cheapest option for prospective customers in eastern Johnson County will be $50 a month for speeds of up to 100 megabits per second. That’s much faster than the national average for home service.

On Monday, the company said it would offer broadband service — 25 megabits per second — for $15 a month. But that service will only be in neighborhoods where Internet access is relatively scarce.

For speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, or 1,000 megabits, the company will still charge $70 a month. A basic cable package bundled with the gigabit Internet goes for $130 a month.

Customers in other parts of the market where Google Fiber service is already available can still get the much slower “free” Internet by paying $25 in monthly installments for the first year to cover installation. But that offer disappears after May 19.

The company made the change quietly, without an announcement on its blog. It calls the new $50 service “Fiber 100.” It comes without an installation fee, but customers must sign up for at least a year of service. Unlike the higher tier, it’s not paired with free cloud data storage.

While Google Fiber is killing the cut-rate service, it has agreed to provide free ultra-fast Internet service in several public housing complexes in the Kansas City area.

In a blog post when it made that pledge in February, the company hinted the change would be coming.

“More people should have access to fast Internet,” Google Fiber said on its blog two months ago. “This year, we’re exploring new ways to make that happen. In addition to bringing free gigabit Internet to select public housing, we’ll introduce a new affordable Internet option in some cities — a low-cost broadband connection that’s fast enough to make video calls and stream HD content.”

Whether $50 a month equals low-cost might be debatable, but the price is competitive for 100 megabits per second that can handle various streaming services with little trouble.

That new option will be available to existing customers starting May 19.

The tech website Re/code first noticed the change. It speculated the ditching of the “free” option came from growing expectations that Google Fiber deliver profits to parent company Alphabet.

“(Google Fiber) is facing more pressure to turn into a viable, competitive broadband and cable business,” the website wrote. “That means reaping real margins. And the new pricing model — no more wiring up houses essentially for free — could help Fiber get to better margins.”

Google Fiber launched in Kansas City, Kan., in late 2012. It has since expanded to several other markets, and the “free” service is typically not included for those other places.

Scott Canon: 816-234-4754, @ScottCanon