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Seven Communities Tapped as Broadband Expansion Testbeds

A partnership among US Ignite, the National Science Foundation and Schmidt Futures has selected seven projects in both rural and urban areas to expand Internet access and help close the digital divide.

a Wi-Fi signal against a white background
Seven communities have been selected as testbeds to grow broadband access expansion. The initiative is part of Project OVERCOME, led by a partnership among US Ignite, the National Science Foundation and Schmidt Futures. 

The projects range from serving low-income urban communities to hard-to-reach rural areas, with the goal of developing scalable solutions to help close the digital divide in the United States which has left some 17 million people unconnected. 
“We specifically sought to identify a set of communities which was reflective of the density, demographics, geography and housing types throughout our country. And we also sought to pursue a range of technical approaches,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the National Science Foundation, during a Tuesday webinar to announce the projects. 
The projects include those like the one being led by the University at Buffalo in New York to bring Internet service to a historically under-served community near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. 
"The pandemic has also showed the national and systematic under-investment in broadband in our country, especially in communities that need it most. Those of color, those that are on tribal lands, those that are in remote areas,” said Eric Schmidt co-founder of Schmidt Futures. 
Another project will bring a wireless link to rural McKenzie Valley in Oregon with a new fiber network and incentives to help grow private investment. 
“Internet connections in 2021 aren’t a ‘gee, that would be nice to have.’ They are a must have,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D) Oregon, said of the project in his state. 
Another project in Cleveland, Ohio, will “help to end Cleveland’s rank as the absolute worst connected large city in America,” said Dorothy Baunach, CEO of DigitalC, which helps to grow connectivity as well as provide devices and digital literacy training.  
The project will “open pathways to improve our neighbor’s education, health and economic well-being,” Baunach added. 
Other projects include:
  • The Missouri University of Science and Technology in Clinton County, Mo., to establish an RF-over-Fiber deployment for last-mile wireless technologies in rural areas.
  • The Westchester County Association in Yonkers, N.Y., to create a digital opportunity zone to expand youth involvement and digital equity. 
  • Allied Media Projects in Detroit, Mich., to deploy a combination of fiber and wireless infrastructure.  
  • Libraries Without Borders in Loiza, Puerto Rico, to deploy a network among three community centers which offers digital skills training and health literacy information to low-income residents in underserved neighborhoods.
US Ignite will oversee the project deployments as well as monitor and measure their impact, “and to help to determine what strategies are effective and can be replicated in other communities across the country,” said Mari Silbey, director of partnerships and outreach at US Ignite. 
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to highlight the importance of broadband connectivity, and its critical role in providing access to opportunity,” she added. “As such, and as we explore new technology and partnership models, it’s important to test these models in rural and urban environments, across varied demographic groups, and in different geographic regions across the country.”   
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.
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