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US Ignite Announced Project OVERCOME to Grow Broadband Access

Project OVERCOME, led by US Ignite and funded by the National Science Foundation, will select five proof-of-concept projects to grow access to broadband connectivity in underserved or unserved areas.

connected internet broadband
The development of broadband service in disadvantaged communities has received the attention of a leading advancer of smart cities initiatives.

US Ignite, a tech nonprofit charged with bolstering smart communities, has launched Project OVERCOME, which will select and build out five proof-of-concept broadband projects in underserved or unserved communities. This effort is being funded, in part, by a $1.95 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project teams will be selected based on their use of innovation and technology, particularly in areas like forging public-private partnerships or exploring tech solutions like mesh networks. The participants of Project OVERCOME will be chosen in spring 2021, with proof-of-concept projects to be delivered within a year.

US Ignite staff will offer expertise in areas like equipment purchase and deployment, outreach efforts, and finalizing the network designs. One of the larger goals of the initiative will be not only the ability to bring broadband connectivity to the partner communities, but also to serve as a template for deploying other similar projects in other parts of the U.S.

Efforts to grow broadband access were made all the more essential by the COVID-19 crisis, which forced a reliance on distance learning, remote work, online retail and the like.

“Many communities have made great strides in 2020 in their efforts to improve broadband access, and we hope that the urgency of the pandemic will continue to accelerate broadband expansion in ways that might not have happened otherwise. There’s evidence to support that hypothesis,” said Lee Davenport, director of community development for US Ignite, adding that during the Great Recession 10 years ago, the federal government launched the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which made a number of strides in advancing broadband connectivity.

“Today we see a lot of renewed interest in closing the digital divide in response to the COVID-19 crisis both from the government and the private sector,” said Davenport.

Other industry leaders say the COVID-19 pandemic called stark attention to connectivity gaps.

“The pandemic has really shined a light on connectivity, and especially the digital divide,” Ann Dunkin, chief technology officer for state and local government at Dell Technologies, told Government Technology in late August. Dunkin is also the former chief information officer for Santa Clara County, Calif., in Silicon Valley.

"[The pandemic] just really shined a light on the fact that we have places where there is no connectivity, or there’s limited connectivity,” Dunkin added.

Project OVERCOME is set to begin soliciting community proposals within the month. Project teams “should draw from some combination of academic, nonprofit, industry, government, student and volunteer partners,” reads a US Ignite press release.

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 Yreka, Calif.