Cyber-infrastructure and the Right to the City

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When Google rolled out Google Fiber, its new fiber optic network, in Kansas City, Missouri for the first time in 2012, it revealed deep racial and economic divides in the city. This undermined Google’s claim that Google Fiber would help solve the nation’s digital divide, but it helps us understand some of the ways infrastructure and inequality intertwine. My interest here is to explore the connection between cyberinfrastructure and inequality with regard to the situated play of visibilities enacted when the boundaries of citizenship are advanced or hindered by infrastructure. I will examine the ways public interest features in legal, discursive, and material shifts that relate to changes in broadband technology. Through interviews with public officials and brokers in Kansas City and a discursive analysis of policy, I will address the impact of Google’s experimental model of infrastructure on the city. This case study will demonstrate that the cultural realities of underserved sectors of cities have the potential to become less visible when privatized, demand-driven infrastructural models are implemented.