A new national center in Akron, Ohio, will help communities ensure that their citizens can take advantage of social, civic and economic opportunities by accessing the digital Town Square of the 21st century.

The project is funded by a first-year, $4.5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to OneCommunity, an acclaimed expert in helping communities create sustainable universal access. Knight has pledged up to $25 million over the next five years to accelerate digital access projects in the 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers.

The nonprofit Knight Center of Digital Excellence will collect and share international best practices online with communities everywhere. It will provide on-the-ground aid to the Knight communities to develop technology strategies and enable citizens to connect with each other and the world. Knight's initiative includes a $10 million Digital Opportunity fund offering challenge grants to Knight communities.

Akron is the national center's headquarters and the first community to benefit from a grant: $625,000 for a wireless universal access corridor that will leverage OneCommunity's regional fiber-optic network. The corridor will cover 8-to-12 square miles, including downtown, and cost about $2.2 million to design and deploy. OneCommunity is undertaking the project, and is the recipient of the grant award from Knight, which includes $500,000 to be provided when OneCommunity obtains $1 million in hand.

Akron Mayor Donald L. Plusquellic has signed a memorandum of understanding with OneCommunity and will recommend that city council approve a five-year commitment of about $800,000 toward the design, deployment, and operation of the network. The city's commitment would include $395,000 toward capital costs and $80,000 a year for the network's operational and maintenance expenses. The total first-year commitment of about $500,000 would trigger an installment of $250,000 from Knight for the project.

"Universal access will improve the quality of life, create new economic opportunities for Akron's citizens, enhance health and education, improve public safety, and drive economic development," said Plusquellic. "With this public-private partnership, the City of Akron will serve as a role model for communities around the country. We are proud to be the home of this national Center of Digital Excellence and to be the first community to benefit from Knight's commitment to universal access."

"More and more in a global economy we conduct our civic, business and social activities online," said Paula Ellis, Knight Foundation's vice president of strategic initiatives. "In every city and town it's important to ensure that no one becomes a second-class citizen because he or she does not have access."

The Knight Center will be staffed and operated by OneCommunity, a nonprofit technology organization internationally recognized for its leadership in deploying broadband infrastructure and applications. OneCommunity President & CEO Scot Rourke was recently named Intelligent Community Visionary of the Year for 2008 by the Intelligent Community Forum (www.intelligentcommunity.org), a New York-based think tank dedicated to studying economic growth in the global broadband economy.

"Our goal is to help ensure that communities develop effective broadband and applications strategies that bring value to a community, are widely adopted by all constituencies and are well positioned for sustainability," said Rourke. "OneCommunity uses a unique, collaborative approach that convenes key stakeholders from both the public and private sectors -- including schools, libraries, hospitals, universities, governments, and local technology companies."