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Housing projects connect with high-speed internet

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- While Google Fiber is offering another opportunity for people to sign up for its gigabit internet service, more low-income individuals around the metro are getting online for the first time for free.

The Juniper Gardens housing project is one of three neighborhoods that has its own free wireless network.

About 300 low-income households have free access to the internet at broadband speeds thanks to dozens of little boxes installed on the apartment buildings here.

Two local non-profits, Connecting For Good, and the Free Network Foundation have established networks in Juniper Gardens, at Rosedale Ridge and at Posada Del Sol on the Missouri side of the state line.

Through grants and donations, the groups buy internet access wholesale and then beam it via microwave to towers set up in communities. Internet access is then distributed through a series of radios and routers to create a wireless web network. The cost to establish this service in Juniper Gardens is only about $9 per household per year.

"Today we really believe internet access is an essential modern utility," said Michael Liimatta, co-founder of Connecting For Good. "For instance how to find jobs anymore, apply for jobs. You can't get a quality education unless you are online."

While these free networks are starting out for poor people in low income housing projects, the groups involved believe the internet is going to become common space, like sidewalks or the air we breathe or water. Everyone should have the right to use it on the same terms.

The groups say eventually neighborhood associations and subdivisions may choose to put up their own microwave dish and establish internet access for a fraction of the $300 Google Fiber is charging for its free service for seven years. Neighborhoods like this one are proof that a cluster of people can make it happen if they're frustrated with service they're getting from their current internet provider.

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