Red Hook Initiative Wins Competition to Expand Free Internet
Robert Smith accepts the EDC RISE:NYC award for RHI.
Red Hook WIFI, a program of the Red Hook Initiative, was selected from over 200 applications from around the globe as part of the NYC Economic Development Corporation RISE: NYC competition. “RISE : NYC is part of the City’s comprehensive suite of initiatives to mitigate the effects of severe weather and climate change on New Yorkers, and all of the winning technologies will help support and strengthen small businesses across the City,” said NYCEDC President Kyle Kimball. “Each of the 11 innovative winning technologies will make the City a safer, stronger and more resilient place, creating economic support and additional opportunities for New Yorkers and small businesses.”
The Red Hook Initiative, the only community-based non-profit to be awarded a RISE grant, will receive a portion of the $30 million award funds to expand the Red Hook WIFI network through partnerships with local businesses. The WIFI program began as a pilot by RHI in early 2012 and became the primary communication platform for public housing residents in the recovery period immediately following Hurricane Sandy. Over the past three years, Red Hook WIFI has expanded to 15 hotspots throughout the neighborhood, serving hundreds of Red Hook residents and visitors. Unlike most neighborhood or city-wide free WIFI programs, Red Hook WIFI has been designed, installed, maintained and promoted by young adults who are residents of public housing in Red Hook.
RISE: NYC funding will fast track the expansion and stabilization of the free WIFI network in Red Hook. Through a partnership with Sky Packets, a wireless network installation and maintenance company, Red Hook WIFI will install and maintain 70 access points throughout Red Hook. With such growth, Red Hook WIFI will cover 80% of the commercial areas in the neighborhood and make it the largest community-developed and maintained free WIFI program in the United States.
Red Hook WIFI is also partnering with The Beautiful Earth Group to enhance the stability and resiliency of the network through solar backup energy and have proposed an innovative distributed mesh network with designed redundancy in the event of a power outage. Additionally, local ISP Brooklyn Fiber will provide 1 gigabit of dedicated bandwidth for the network, enabling users to experience speeds faster than common residential access.
17 businesses hosting resilient Red Hook WIFI Internet gateway equipment will receive free high speed Internet service for the 2-year duration of the grant period, and over 50 additional Red Hook businesses and their customers will be able to take advantage of the free network. “A Red Hook WIFI network is a great step in the right direction, and a great way to fuel growth in the neighborhood,” said St. John Frizell, owner of Fort Defiance, a restaurant in Red Hook. The Red Hook WIFI homepage, which users visit upon accessing the network, features local news, job opportunities, events, and marketing support for Red Hook businesses.
The expansion of Red Hook WIFI will continue to be installed and maintained by Digital Stewards, a group of young adults who are residents of public housing in Red Hook employed by RHI in a year-long, paid tech fellowship. 30 young people have graduated or are actively employed as Fellows with 75% of graduates pursing a tech career, securing employment, or continuing their education.
“We are a team of positive individuals who are changing not only our lives but our family and our community by bringing our ideas to life using technology. It means a lot to me to finally be in an environment where I can grow as a person and put myself out there in a more presentable way as an upcoming artist or even an IT technician,” said Tyteana Griem, Digital Steward.
RISE: NYC funding will cover the cost of equipment, Internet bandwidth, design, and installation while RHI will continue to support staffing and salaries for the Digital Steward Program. “Red Hook WIFI offers a unique opportunity to blend essential job training and paid employment for young adults from Red Hook while bringing critical services for the local business community. It is truly an example of a community building strength from within.” says Jill Eisenhard, Founder & Executive Director of RHI.
The awards were announced on April 29, 2015 and Red Hook WIFI will begin the expansion work in early fall 2015.