(Washington, DC) Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser was joined by Chief Technology Officer Lindsey Parker and broadband provider WeLink to announce the Community Internet Program (CIP), a new initiative that will give Internet Service Providers (ISPs) free access to District-owned building rooftops if they commit to providing high-speed connections (200 Mbps up/200 Mbps down or higher) at reduced or no cost to households eligible for President Biden’s Affordable Connectivity Program. Their antennas will also serve as neighborhood hubs that will be able to feed internet to residential properties – all at no cost to DC.
“Access to high-speed internet is critical. As we stay focused on building a more connected DC, increasing access to affordable, high-quality internet is a big part of that work,” said Mayor Bowser. “Whenever we can use District-owned buildings to better support the community, that is a win for everyone. We’re happy that President Biden is making this issue a priority, and we plan to make DC a national example of what is possible.”
Last week, President Biden announced the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), the Biden-Harris Administration’s plan to make affordable, high-speed internet available to millions of Americans. The Community Internet Program will build on those efforts. DC residents can learn more about DC’s Community Internet Program at internet.dc.gov, where individuals can check their internet speed and sign up for President Biden’s Affordable Connectivity Program. Internet Service Providers can also visit internet.dc.gov to express interest in the Community Internet Program.
“Access to our roofs is a valuable financial opportunity for ISPs and we are excited many appear to be ready to provide the speeds necessary to keep you and your family well connected, access the online training to find your fair shot, and communicate with your loved ones when you want,” said Lindsey Parker, DC’s Chief Technology Officer. “We are asking these providers to commit to the equity and accessibility values our Tech Together DC partners envisioned as well as put forth maximum outreach efforts by helping knock on doors and close our internet connectivity gaps once and for all.”
Mayor Bowser also announced that WeLink has committed to be the first partner in this initiative. WeLink expects to begin installing their neighborhood hubs in Wards 5, 7 and 8, starting in the Trinidad community within the next 30 days. Through this program, WeLink will bring multi-gigabit speed internet at no cost to households who qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program.
“The partnership between WeLink and Washington, DC marks a major milestone in our efforts to close the digital divide and bring affordable gigabit-speed internet to every household,” said Kevin Ross, Founder and CEO of WeLink. “Our next-generation technology will bring best-on-the-market internet to thousands of DC residents, and public infrastructure access will only accelerate our ability to deploy quickly and cost-effectively to those most in need.”
The Mayor made today’s announcement at Potomac Gardens Family and Senior Housing, the site of one of two ongoing pilots to connect more DC residents to the internet. In 2021, the Office of the Chief Technology Officer and the Department of Human Services (DHS) launched the DC HOPE Network to bring free in-unit internet to residents at five temporary housing and family homeless shelters across DC. And this month, a brand-new pilot between the Office of the Chief Technology Officer and the DC Housing Authority the District activated free in-home high-speed internet and digital literacy training at two DC Housing Authority locations in Ward 6. The internet is delivered by the OCTO DC-NET fiber optic network and powered by local wireless access provider, ETTE. This $1 million pilot, a collaboration between Tech Together DC and Councilmember Charles Allen, will reach 248 households in Potomac Gardens Family and Senior Housing and 125 households at Hopkins Apartments, a total of 1,130 residents. The Office of the Chief Technology Officer was recently awarded a $175,000 Truist Expanding Potential in Communities (EPIC) Grant allowing them to extend opportunity to a third Housing Authority location.
“Providing free, high speed internet access at our properties is a fantastic way to meet the goals of DC’s digital equity initiative,” said DCHA Executive Director Brenda Donald. “Making sure DC’s more vulnerable residents have the same access as their more affluent neighbors helps to reduce gaps in education, employment, everyday knowledge, and more.”
To support DC’s digital equity initiatives, Mayor Bowser also announced the creation of a new State Broadband and Digital Equity Office within the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO). The first task of this new office is to ensure participating ISPs follow through with their commitments on equity helping to close the digital divide. Mayor Bowser has been at the forefront of several high-priority initiatives focused on access and connectivity, including the Mayor’s Internet for All initiative providing free internet access for low-income households with students at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. And since 2011, OCTO DC-NET has led the deployment and maintenance of high-speed internet service to community anchor institutions and over 800 public Wi-Fi hot spots.
In recognition of the potential of DC’s open-access infrastructure approach, WeLink is announcing today its own Cities Challenge to invest up to $100 million of private capital in rapidly deploying the company’s turn-key solution at little or no cost in low-income communities in additional American cities. The company is inviting local government officials to learn more and express interest at cities.welink.com.
“Mayor Bowser’s bold approach shows that Washington is a national leader in the race to close the digital divide. We hope that every city in the country follows their lead,” said John Paul Farmer, President of WeLink Cities, and former Chief Technology Officer of New York City.
Throughout Infrastructure Week, Mayor Bowser will highlight investments in infrastructure and initiatives focused on building a more connected, resilient, and equitable DC. In March, Mayor Bowser announced the creation of the DC Build Back Better Infrastructure Task Force, which will advise on priority projects to be funded through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The Task Force is made up of experts from District agencies and external partners who will ensure the District’s effectiveness in securing and deploying federal dollars while creating projects that will impact residents across the District and generations of Washingtonians to come.