Those partnerships are a critical solution in a nation where 1 in 5 U.S. households does not have internet access, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
Along with federal and state governments, higher education institutions are stepping up to create a positive impact on their communities.
“Our economy and society are undergoing fundamental shifts that make universal access to reliable, affordable broadband essential,” says Kathryn de Wit, project director for the broadband access initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “Universities have high-quality research capabilities and trustworthy reputations within local communities that offer tremendous value toward a state’s broadband planning initiatives.”
The University of Illinois Chicago Is Better Connecting Communities
The project at UIC was directly in sync with the university’s commitment to community outreach.
“What I found interesting about the students’ proposal was that their solution helped bridge the digital divide between the university and the community, but it wasn’t just about education,” Crehan says. “It was about bridging the divide with healthcare resources, after-school activities and small businesses in the Pilsen area. It was still during COVID, and a lot of places were struggling.”
To come up with their wireless design, the students asked questions about where the data centers were geographically located and the wireless already in place. Then, they worked with the Cisco technical team to come up with a plan to provide point-to-multipoint and point-to-point Wi-Fi mesh solutions to extend the school’s backbone wireless capabilities, leveraging the location of specific buildings in the Pilsen neighborhood.
“They had to choose buildings that were centrally located to serve the community at large, so they chose a youth center, a medical center, a high school and a bank,” explains Crehan.
Today, Crehan and her team are upgrading the campus wireless to Wi-Fi 6. Executing the students’ plan for Pilsen is part of the rollout.
“I’m sure we will have to refresh the equipment models and some of the budget numbers that the students initially presented, but their plan is the foundation,” Crehan says. “Talking to the community and building relationships are the next steps, but we are energized to implement this project. It feels awesome to be part of that bigger picture.”