Broadband Communities

NOV-DEC 2018

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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COMMUNITY BROADBAND | B R O A D B A N D C O M M U N I T I E S | w w w. b r o a d b a n d c o m m u n i t i e s . c o m | N O V E M B E R / D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 8 Communities Rally To Bridge the Digital Divide Nonprofits and municipalities work to get low-income residents access to the internet. By Lisa Gonzalez / Institute for Local Self-Reliance MOTIVATED TO CONNECT THE MOTOR CITY T he economic roller coasters that hit Detroit over the years left scars that especially harmed lower-income neighborhoods. Today, poor internet service compounds those neighborhoods' disadvantages, but community organizers are working to expand internet access there. Detroit's Equitable Internet Initiative (EII) grew out of a collaboration between the Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP) and Allied Media Projects. Although its initial goal was to help low-income residents gain access to technology and get online, the initiative now also provides training, jobs and community organizing. e drive to improve internet access in Detroit neighborhoods goes back to 2008. Organizers created a community program with a special focus on internet access, sharing tech resources to get people online. One of its key goals was to help Detroiters progress from being online consumers to being information or content producers while maintaining and expanding the sense of community. In 2012, the group established a program to train community members to design and deploy community wireless networks. At that time, an estimated 40 percent of Detroiters had no internet access, and 60 percent had speeds below the FCC broadband definition. Diana Nucera, the director of DCTP, says the group began with wireless mesh technology and built seven small networks, called the EII Resiliency Network. However, the need outpaced their initial capacity, and DCTP now purchases a gigabit of wholesale bandwidth. To bring the connection to people in the neighborhoods, EII works with community organizations willing to share their resources. It began by collaborating with groups that promoted digital literacy and had a vested interest in better community connectivity. Nucera recalled that the project combined engineering and organizing; leaders of DCTP excel at both. For instance, they did not just have to place nodes on rooftops but also had to "organize rooftop real estate." She explains: A lot of people could just do a business transaction that rents the rooftop, but we've been working with community groups, and churches in particular, because they all have steeples, and looking at this as how to do an exchange – like, "Would you like some internet in exchange for use of your rooftop?" Churches and a local radio station were some of the first locations where EII established major nodes for the network. 'DIGITAL STEWARDS' DEPLOY WIRELESS NETWORKS EII trains people from the neighborhoods as "digital stewards" to deploy fixed wireless infrastructure; the curriculum typically involves a three-month program. ese local stewards recruit others to participate in mapping and surveying their neighborhoods to understand where internet is needed and how people plan to use it. ey then deploy networks based on need. Stewards are hired part-time for two-year stints. Building off the existing EII point-to-point fixed wireless infrastructure, the stewards build a wireless distribution network and bring connections into the homes of neighborhood residents. Stewards find customers, connect them and establish payment methods. To make internet access affordable for everyone who wants it, rates are established on a sliding scale from $0 to $50 per month, depending on the economic situation of each neighborhood. As of fall 2018, each network served approximately 50 homes, with the goal of reaching 250 by 2021 to be self-sustaining. To extend the reach of the distribution network, EII stewards use portable network kits. DCTP also installed a solar charging station prototype and plans to install five to seven more. In addition to bringing affordable connectivity to people living in neighborhoods served by the EII network, program leaders want to establish resilient infrastructure that will withstand natural disasters or power failures. Additionally, using solar power avoids adding to the monthly electric bills of those hosting the nodes. Other communities whose citizens lack adequate internet access have studied DCTP and the EII Resiliency Network and are watching their success. According to Nucera, the projects succeed because of their diversity, their inclusion and their ability to approach an old problem from a new perspective. She adds, "is work takes time and love. So if you're going to go for it, make sure you have those two things."

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