In yesterday’s post, we talked about the new DC Community Anchor Network (DC-CAN), a new initiative funded by federal stimulus dollars that were allocated to bridge the digital divide. Bread for the City has recently connected to DC-CAN, and as a result, we now have access to some of the fastest internet available in the world. It’s very exciting.
But when Mayor Gray introduced this DC-CAN network at a press conference last week (announcing it as a pioneering 21st century municipal internet infrastructure) the reaction was mixed. DCist sounded a note of “skepticism” in its report, and Tom Bridge at We Love DC said that it’s “far from clear” what this new network will actually mean for residents of the District.
It’s complicated. Part of the challenge is that DC-CAN is only a “middle mile” provider of internet — in other words, it carries massive amounts of data through cables that can’t be accessed by individual residents, but rather can be accessed by third party “internet service providers” (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon or local providers like DC ACCESS, who then bring this bandwidth the “last mile” into people’s homes. It’s hard to know what DC-CAN will actually change about the realities of the digital divide in our communities.
Here at Bread for the City, however, we do see a vision of a future in which DC-CAN is a tremendously valuable resource for the residents of DC. It’s through the city’s “community anchor institutions,” to use the term employed by the city’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO).
In the application for the stimulus funding that made DC-CAN possible, OCTO pledged to connect this network directly to more than 200 designated community anchor institutions such as health clinics, educational facilities, and community centers. As per the terms of the federal grant, these organizations can be connected to DC-CAN for free, and then purchase it at the same cost that any other internet service provider would pay. (See their pricing here.)
Bread for the City was the first such community anchor institution to connect to this network. And we’ve been eagerly experimenting with ways to open up this 21st century technology to our community.
It was DC-CAN’s bandwidth, for instance, that enabled us to host a “Discovering Technology Fair” in which almost 200 people came together to use our publicly accessible wireless network for hands-on experience with the internet. The outcome clearly demonstrated the need and opportunity for broadband adoption in our community.
With the strength of DC-CAN, we’re also planning to expand the level of on-site internet access that we can offer to our clients.
And our next step is to go “the last mile” ourselves, bringing this new bandwidth directly into people’s homes by launching an open community wireless network. Using special technology that allows wireless devices to talk to each other and make “mesh” networks, we will share our surplus DC-CAN bandwidth with the neighborhood around our centers. (Learn more about this technology at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative, who have advised us on this project.)
In partnership with the Broadband Bridge, we can work to build that network out block by block. We’ve already installed the routers that can bring this DC-CAN bandwidth into the homes of our nearby clients! When OCTO completes the installation of our network, we will be ready to go the “last mile” — and after that, the more community anchor institutions who connect to DC-CAN and participate, the broader this level of access will become.
We are eager to travel down this path with other community anchor institutions on the DC-CAN network, exploring ways to work together to provide essential internet service directly to the people who need it most.
Do you work with a non-profit organization that might qualify as one of DC-CAN’s “community anchor institutions”? We are happy to share what we’ve learned about this network, and help others take this great step forward. First thing to do would be to fill out this survey about your organization’s internet usage and needs.
If you’d like to learn more about our partners in the Broadband Bridge, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s be in touch so that we can learn from each other!