The city will extend its public Wi-Fi network into five neighborhoods where people lack home internet access under a partnership with Cisco.
Fort Worth, Texas, announced it is expanding access to its public Wi-Fi to 40,000 residents in five neighborhoods that currently have limited internet connectivity.
The city’s public network will be extended from municipal buildings like schools, community centers and other facilities into the five neighborhoods — Ash Crescent, Como, Northside, Rosemont and Stop Six — using backhaul in partnership with Cisco and the addition of network access points to utility poles. Deployment is scheduled to be completed this fall.
The effort comes after the coronavirus pandemic exposed the lack of access in the city.
Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said in a statement that the effort is “bridging a steep digital divide in parts of our city that need it the most, empowering more residents to complete job applications, do research for schoolwork, attend virtual doctor appointments, complete applications for services, and so much more.”
The initiative is the largest geographic deployment of Cisco’s Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul, and Kevin Gunn, Fort Worth’s chief technology officer, said accessing the network is designed to be as simple as possible for users. Gunn said the city will also prioritize digital literacy for residents, although the first goal is to get the network up and running.
“We do recognize that new internet citizens have a steep learning curve to traverse,” he said. “There's computer literacy, there's information hygiene concerns, there's tech support. We’ll have to figure out and navigate in order to get the fullest benefit of those resources, but the first step is just to get on that information superhighway and take the first step.”
The initiative will not fully address all residents’ lack of connectivity, as by city estimates around 20,000 people will still lack home internet access. But Gunn said the initiative could be replicable not only elsewhere in Fort Worth but in other jurisdictions across the country as local leaders wrestle with their own digital divides.
“They're not going to be exactly the same as Fort Worth,” Gunn said. “Their topography, their geography, their terrain will vary, the prevalence of vegetation or trees or vertical structures like buildings will vary. They're not going to do it exactly the way we did, but it's something that's flexible enough for a variety of situations, particularly urban areas where you've got density.”
Gunn said it is incumbent on local governments to build partnerships on initiatives such as this one and be willing to experiment even when something is very new. Gary DePreta, Cisco’s area vice president for state, local governments and education, said it requires a “coalition of the willing” to come together on these issues.
“Don't wait, just take action, err on the side of action,” Gunn said. “We didn't know if we were going to be successful or not.… We wanted to do something, and we figured we'd learn along the way.”