Benton Institute Releases Report on Community-Led Projects Aiming To Bridge the Digital Divide

In an effort to facilitate the deployment of innovative broadband solutions in underserved areas - both urban and rural - the nonprofit organization US Ignite recently partnered with National Science Foundation (NSF) and Schmidt Futures to launch ProjectOVERCOME. 

The Benton Institute released a report in November naming the seven communities that the project will focus on: Blue River, OR; Buffalo, NY; Cleveland, OH; Clinton City, MO; Detroit, MI;Loiza, Puerto Rico; and Yonkers, NY.

In the report that was released, Benton spotlights each community and the technologies they will use. The technologies include Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), fiber, fixed wireless and hotspots. 

According to the initiative's guidelines, these communities were chosen because of how they vary in population, demographics, regions of the country, housing, and industry. The program will work with these communities to experiment in deploying innovative Internet connectivity solutions on a 12-month timeline. 

The projects will collectively result in not only education, outreach, and local broadband organizing development efforts, but provide direct connectivity to more than 700 households.

For example, in a CBRS deployment in New York,

The Project OVERCOME pilot in Buffalo will provide equitable broadband access, enabling community members to engage with educational, telehealth, and government services. These services have been unattainable due to high internet costs and digital redlining. As part of the project, four Long-Term Evolution (LTE) antennas are being installed on top of the Buffalo General Medical Center (BGMC). These antennas will broadcast signals to the Fruit Belt using the newly available Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. Customer premise equipment (CPEs) and Wi-Fi access points will be installed at participants’ houses to catch the LTE signal and create a Wi-Fi network for home internet access. Through the installation of the LTE antennas, up to 140 households are projected to gain broadband service, with potentially hundreds more coming online in the near future.

Meanwhile, in a fiber deployment in Clinton County, Missouri:

The deployment in Turney will combine multiple wireless technologies into a single architecture using Radio Frequency (RF)-over-Fiber technology. The team optimizes bandwidth allocation by using machine learning in an intelligent router. It stitches low-cost, low-bandwidth hardware together to simulate a high-bandwidth device and reduce expenditures for overall deployment. As a model for other rural communities, the technology will build on an open-source platform that allows for replication elsewhere. The Turney team will also share lessons learned and best practices from the project to help expand the fiber edge and bring greater connectivity to other small, rural communities. 

Along the way, US Ignite plans to collaborate with academics to chart the impact on “health care, education, employment, and skills development.” They’ll be monitoring both the successes and challenges the communities come across throughout the process, as well as how some of these tests might offer solutions in bridging the digital divide.

Read the report here to learn more about the communities and follow Project OVERCOME here.