Alternative Broadband Networks: Affordable Internet for the People, One Rooftop at a Time

Before Marco Antonio Santana could speak English, he was speaking computers. Now, the 32-year-old, who grew up in a Dominican household in New York City, helps provide high-speed fiber internet installations and repairs to over 180 units in a low-income housing complex in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. 

“I’ve been a nerd my whole life,” he tells me, running a delicate strand of fiber-optic cable into a splicer in NYC Mesh’s workroom. 

We climb to the roof of the 26-story building with striking vistas of the city’s water towers, bridges and prewar buildings. There, multiple long-range antennas and routers connect wirelessly to other rooftop nodes as far out as Brooklyn, miles away across the East River. It’s one glimpse into the growing network that NYC Mesh has built over the last several years. 

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NYC Mesh is not an internet service provider, but a grassroots, volunteer-run community network. Its aim is to create an affordable, open and reliable network that’s accessible to all New Yorkers for both daily and emergency internet use. Santana says the group’s members want to help people determine their own digital future and “bring back the internet to what it used to be.”


Internet access is an essential part of our daily lives: for employment, health, education, communication, finances and entertainment. Yet there’s a staggering divide between those who can afford to connect and those who can’t. At least 42 million Americans are estimated to have no access to high-speed internet, according to the data technology company Broadband Now. 

The lack of low-cost, reliable broadband options densely weighs on poor, Black, Latino, indigenous and rural communities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when being online was the only lifeline, the crisis became even more acute. 

“There’s a stark problem of access,” says Prem Trivedi, policy director at the Open Technology Institute. Students doing homework in a fast-food parking lot to get free Wi-Fi is not sustainable. “That’s an intermittent connection that requires upending your life to do bare necessities.”

Digital equity is a herculean mission. It means going up against the few incumbent ISPs — Xfinity, Spectrum, AT&T, Verizon and the like — that determine prices, terms of service, speeds and where infrastructure is built. 

“ISPs are always trying to maximize profits. We are just trying to connect our members for the lowest cost possible,” says Brian Hall, one of the lead volunteers and founders of NYC Mesh. 

Historically, when the private market fails to supply access to a basic good, communities have stepped in to fill in the gaps, according to Sean Gonsalves, associate director for communications at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “It’s how the electric and telephone cooperatives got started in rural America a century ago.” 

NYC Mesh community Wifi on phone

Richard Peterson/CNET

Providing donation-based internet access is part of NYC Mesh’s objective to serve the underserved. The premise is that communication should be free. “We will never disconnect

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Metropolis of Syracuse launches free broadband online pilot method, enrollment opens Monday

In the upcoming action in addressing the electronic divide, the Metropolis of Syracuse, together with the Syracuse Housing Authority (SHA), is launching the Group Broadband Program Pilot, a aspect of the new Syracuse Surge Initiative.

The goal of the software is to expand digital access to very low-income and underserved communities in the Town of Syracuse. The pilot plan will give free broadband internet entry to 2,500 homes in the metropolis, together with residents of SHA attributes.

Far more: Local community Broadband Networks hopes to offer net for small-money regions in Syracuse

Knowledge from the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey displays that above 25% of Syracuse households absence trustworthy accessibility to broadband web. Narrowing that hole is critical to the Syracuse Surge Initiative, the city’s strategy for inclusive advancement in the New Financial state.

“Limited obtain to trustworthy, affordable internet service deprives children from learning chances and minimizes entry to positions, healthcare, and other online products and services that quite a few of us choose for granted. With out closing the digital divide that plagues reduce-money neighborhoods, we simply cannot realize our Syracuse Surge goal of inclusive development in the New Overall economy,” stated Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh.

Associated: Syracuse learners bridge digital divide through AT&T’s Youth Digital Ambassador Plan

Next a nationwide request for proposals, the Metropolis chosen Group Broadband Networks (CBN), a Geneva, New York world wide web provider supplier, for a three-yr agreement to design and style, install and retain the Syracuse community. The Syracuse Common Council approved $3.5 million in ARPA funds for the program’s pilot phase.

“Every family should really have access to inexpensive broadband answers that satisfy their requires,” explained Angela Siefer, the executive director of the Countrywide Electronic Inclusion Alliance. “Technology accessibility and use is no for a longer period a luxurious. It is now a necessity to dwell, master, perform, and prosper. Kudos to the Metropolis of Syracuse for prioritizing electronic equity.”

Enrollment opens Monday for citizens of Syracuse’s Southwest, in close proximity to Westside and Brighton neighborhoods.

Programs for Surge Link are offered online at syracusesurgelink.com by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling 315-325-5000. Applicants need to dwell in designated, underserved census tracts in the pilot spot and possibly satisfy income specifications or participate in other federal support applications which includes but not constrained to Federal General public Housing Assistance, Medicaid, and Supplemental Diet Aid System (SNAP).

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Broadband provider investing $50M for ultra rapidly online in Durham, Orange counties

DURHAM – Web buyers wanting a lot quicker speeds will quickly have a different possibility for provider with Higher Level-dependent Lumos saying it will commit $50 million to extend its community in portions of Durham and Orange Counties.

Lumos lately gained a $7 million grant from the point out of North Carolina to increase far more fiber in Alamance and Randolph Counties. The firm took on a new identify previously this thirty day period, and also additional a new chief executive officer. The corporation traces its roots to the previous North State Communications and Virginia-primarily based Lumos Networks. They were combined as aspect of a deal produced by Cox Communications.

The enlargement will get started in 2023 and will sooner or later access some 35,000 residences and businesses, Lumos stated.

Google Fiber, AT&T, Frontier and other providers also give access in particular parts of the two counties.

Speeds up to 2 gigabits human being second – additional than 10 moments faster than standard accessibility by way of cable – will be offered, in accordance to Lumos.

Enterprise ideas commence at $99 per thirty day period.

Household programs start out at $50 for every thirty day period and scale to $100 for every month based on world-wide-web speed.

Brian Stading (Lumos photograph)

“The entire world is far more linked than ever. Lumos aims to unlock the potential of the digital earth – from function-from-property environments, to telemedicine, to a gig financial system – by providing 100% Fiber Optic World wide web, we are encouraging to make certain our regional communities and compact companies don’t get left guiding due to the fact their electronic infrastructure just can’t keep up,” reported Brian Stading, Lumos’ CEO, who was named to the occupation in August. “This growth highlights Lumos’ commitment to bringing aggressive choice and the very best technological innovation offered to the community, generating a connection to the upcoming.”

Past 7 days Stading satisfied with Gov. Roy Cooper when he declared the most recent round of broadband grants from the point out.

Lumos now features fiber entry across some 200,000 properties in North Carolina and Virginia.

“We are presently working with Lumos to offer significant-velocity internet obtain to far more than 24,000 addresses in Orange County,” stated Renee Selling price, Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, “And we’re delighted that this further venture will present fiber broadband obtain to an additional 1,500 houses and businesses in the japanese part of Orange County.”

NorthState now independent, adhering to sale of mum or dad company Segra to Cox Communications

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World-wide-web guerrillas: Inside the Diy broadband revolution

Toby Bloch does not glimpse like your ordinary world wide web set up technician. As an alternative of a uniform with a company logo embroidered on it, he wears worn-in denims and a thick canvas jacket. Alternatively of a van, he drives a Subaru — the back again of which is stuffed to the gills with a disorganized pile of hand equipment, cables, and odd digital equipment with antennas sticking out of them. And compared with most technicians, he isn’t likely to receive a dime for the appointment he’s headed to in Brooklyn.

But oddly ample, that’s specifically the position. Bloch doesn’t work like a standard web set up tech since he isn’t a person. He does not operate for Comcast or Spectrum or Verizon or any other significant net service provider (ISP). He’s a volunteer at NYC Mesh: A guerrilla world wide web supplier that aids people get on the web without the need of paying out a regular monthly price to the aforementioned telecom corporations.

An NYC Mesh volunteer grabs tools from his car.
Andrew Hirshfeld

The group has been producing waves in New York Town by making up its Diy broadband network above the past couple a long time — but different online entry isn’t the only thing NYC Mesh is creating. As it spreads throughout the metropolis, node by node, it’s also developing a blueprint — one particular that other communities across the place can comply with as they stand up to monopolistic ISPs.

“It’s been really eye-opening to me just how badly Verizon and Spectrum run their networks in terms of the bandwidth that they’re able to provide to their clients,” Bloch tells Electronic Tendencies.

The case for Do-it-yourself net

Internet connectivity in the United States is lackluster at finest. According to the Federal Communications Fee (FCC), 19 million Us citizens are without having obtain to responsible net. Just to put that in context, which is 6% of the complete country’s population and approximately the population of New York Point out, the nation’s fourth-most populous, in its entirety.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, online speeds plummeted as additional individuals labored from household. If you felt like your online speeds tanked all through the pandemic, you are not imagining items. In New York, speeds dropped by 24%.

But even with stagnant or declining speeds, broadband prices have surged in modern a long time. In accordance to a 2020 report from New The usa, the normal rate for world wide web plans was extra than $62/thirty day period nationally. In spots like Atlanta, it is noticeably greater — far more than $100 for each month on average.

A NYC Mesh node antenna beams WiFi access to city residents.
Andrew Hirshfeld

What is behind these high price ranges? It’s probable a lack of competitiveness. Most of the world-wide-web services across the U.S. are controlled by just a handful of large firms. According to a 2020 report from the Institute for Local Self Reliance, just about 50 million people today only have access to broadband online via a single supplier. An further 47 million only have

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Pa. lawmakers progress system to improve broadband world-wide-web growth

HARRISBURG — The condition Home voted unanimously Wednesday to set up a governmental physique to acquire a statewide plan for broadband world-wide-web funding and growth into unserved and underserved parts of Pennsylvania.

The bill, which was sent to the Senate, would set up the impartial Pennsylvania Broadband Enhancement Authority. It would act as a central issue to coordinate grant revenue in underserved parts.

Point out Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene, is a co-sponsor of the blll.

“For much too prolonged, businesses and residents in rural parts have been battling to obtain quickly world-wide-web speeds. In today’s globe in which so significantly can be completed on the net, which include understanding, ‘visiting’ your health care provider, spending charges, and accessing information and entertainment, equivalent access to broadband is extra important than at any time,” Snyder reported in a push release. “Passing this invoice will enable us near the electronic divide, make sure all communities have entry to reasonably priced broadband, and give Pennsylvanians a greater opportunity at succeeding in the upcoming.”

Pennsylvania is in line for at the very least $100 million in federal funds to expand broadband in the condition. The federal infrastructure monthly bill also allotted about $37 billion nationally to be doled out primarily based on economical need, like regular monthly subsidies for the cost of connectivity.

The authority that would be set up underneath the Home-handed invoice would consist of an 11-member board and have a six-12 months lifespan, until prolonged. Customers would be picked out by the governor and legislative leaders.

Pa. Residence Majority Chief Kerry Benninghoff, (R-Centre/Mifflin, applauded the passage of the legislation.

“Frankly, it is earlier time that this receives done. Getting 21 decades into the 21st century, it is a failure on the component of way too lots of men and women that so numerous within just our Commonwealth deficiency accessibility to what is now a standard life requirement,” he claimed in a release. “Today’s bipartisan exertion, accomplished in coordination with the Wolf administration, is a huge step in addressing this very long-standing problem.”

The invoice sets minimum amount broadband speeds to match federal criteria.

Gov. Tom Wolf stated in a release that the broadband improvement authority “created by this bill will assist to handle a minimum of $100 million in federal support the condition will get for the broadband rollout in a coordinated and strategic way to help the building of new towers, lines and broadband tools. This signifies a generational change for numerous rural communities to shut the electronic divide, improve equity and expense and deliver the options that broadband supplies to additional homes, colleges and firms.”

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