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$750,000 Knight Foundation grant to expand pilot Wi-Fi initiative in Detroit’s North End

Crain’s Detroit Business
Oct. 29, 2021
Sherri Welch

A grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will help expand high-speed Wi-Fi access in Detroit’s North End neighborhood.

The $750,000 grant to the Equitable Internet Initiative will support EII’s efforts to connect 1,000 North End households with free high-speed Internet connections over the next three years.

Those efforts will expand on EII’s pilot project using wireless technology to provide free high-speed Internet to 215 homes in the neighborhood and nearby areas where more than 40 percent of households do not have access, the organizations said in a release.

The estimated annual operations and maintenance costs for EII to serve 1,000 households is $30 per household, per month — about a third of what major providers charge, EII said.

Knight’s investment will support the training of 18 community members as “digital stewards” who will be taught the engineering skills to set up neighborhood-governed networks and serve as local tech support.

EII also plans to pilot a low-cost and tiered-payment model for participating households to begin establishing a self-sustaining model for the program.

“The digital divide can be detrimental to career and education opportunities for residents in underserved areas,” Nate Wallace, Knight’s Detroit program director, said in an email announcing the grant. “This project in Detroit serves as a model for other cities working to ensure equal internet access for all neighborhoods.”

EII is a collaboration of multiple organizations, including Detroit Community Technology Project, Grace in Action in Southwest, Church of the Messiah in Islandview, the North End Woodward Community Coalition in the North End and Highland Park and Community Tech New York.

The Rev. Joan Ross, operating director of the North End Woodward Community Coalition, shared EII’s efforts during a White House listening session about the digital divide in May.

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