This week Washington, D.C., broke ground on a new high-speed fiber network aimed at providing broadband access to underserved areas.

Called the DC Community Access Network (DC-CAN), the program will focus on rolling out high-speed Internet services to residents, businesses, schools libraries and other public centers.

Specifically DC-CAN will offer service to 223 health clinics, charter schools and senior centers, and will upgrade 68 public library and public safety sites.

Washington, D.C., has been facing a severe digital divide in recent years regarding broadband. Although 65.3 percent of the city’s population in 2009 had adopted high-speed Internet access, most of that was in affluent areas (80 percent or more), according to a broadband adoption map released earlier this month.

DC-CAN will service areas that have broadband adoption rates of less than 40 percent.

“DC-CAN is a keystone in the bridge over the digital divide,” said Rob Mancini, acting chief technology officer of the District of Columbia, in a statement. “The network supports all of the district government’s efforts to increase access to and adoption of broadband services.”

The new $25 million network is funded primarily through a $17.5 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The Washington, D.C., government will also provide matching funds for the network, according to Mancini.

DC-CAN is managed by the district’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer DC-Net program. DC-Net is the district’s high-speed fiber-optic network. Mancini explained, however, that the two entities aren’t connected and will serve different purposes.

“DC-Net network will continue its focus on providing public safety grade services to the district government,” Mancini said. “DC-CAN is designed as a separate network.”

The project will help create a broadband superhighway around the city, featuring affordable 100 Gbps to Internet service providers and groups offering residential broadband to customers.

“Access speeds for community anchor institutions are up to 10 gigabits per second,” added Mancini. “The core network, providing middle-mile backhaul services to last-mile service providers, will support up to 100 gigabits per second.”

Washington, D.C., is divided into eight wards, and high-speed Internet services will be available later this year in wards seven and eight. Ward five is scheduled for rollout in spring 2012. Other wards and areas will receive broadband capability as fiber construction continues through 2013.

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.