In mid-May 2022, the Washington DC government and broadband provider WeLink launched a novel initiative for affordable broadband in the city.
Called the Community Internet Program, it provides free access to city-owned rooftops to internet service providers (ISPs) who commit to offering reduced- or no-cost internet service to qualifying households in the district. The idea is that the service can be beneficial for households and act as hubs within DC neighborhoods.
Following the announcement, WeLink started developing the neighborhood hubs in Wards 5, 7 and 8, beginning with the Trinidad neighborhood. Households need to be eligible for Biden’s Affordable Connectivity Program to qualify.
“We were focused even before the pandemic on bridging the digital divide, but now we know that that work is even more urgent,” DC’s mayor Muriel Bowser said at the time of the Community Internet Program announcement. “The world has moved online in even bigger ways. In fact, the pandemic fast-tracked that for learning, for jobs-seeking, for health.”
WeLink’s CTO Lindsey Parker said that affordability from providers would be a priority, adding that all partnering providers will be required to participate in the federal Affordable Connectivity Program. These companies will also be required to provide connections that reach at least 200 megabits-per-second (Mbps) when downloading and uploading.
Together, Parker said, the partners will look to provide the service to every address in DC, beginning with the neighborhoods that need it most.
“We knew that solving for the digital divide in DC was not going to be easy,” Parker said. “And the past two years [2020 and 2021] only served to amplify the urgency with which we needed to act, and we also knew that we couldn’t solve it once.”
As of May 2022, the city had $15 million in federal funds to plan for internet deployment around DC. It will also obtain $100 million over the next five years via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Parker also co-chairs the Technology Innovation Subcommittee, within the Build Back Better Infrastructure Task Force that Bowser previously created, which oversees how those funds are spent and plans for broadband across the city.
The funds and initiatives offer DC the chance to be more equitable within its tech ecosystem and build inclusion into the city’s tech scene while it grows, Parker added.
To be included, firms must agree to participate in the Biden administration's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and meet speed requirements. Also, participating ISPs would be expected to deliver speeds of at least 200 Mbps.
The initiative was launched in partnership with wireless broadband startup WeLink, which uses existing fiber and small receivers on rooftops to create a mesh network.
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