Broadband Internet for Affordable Housing Residents
Socalfreenet is a non-profit social enterprise bringing free broadband Internet access to affordable housing residents. Low-income families are in need of high-speed Internet access to help them attain their financial, educational, and employment goals. Most households have low-cost computers but lack high-speed Internet connectivity. Socalfreenet’s mission is bridging the digital divide to help low-income families obtain access to information and communications technology (ICT).
Overview -- History
In 2003, computer technologists built a wireless network to provide free high-speed Internet access to the low-income neighborhood of Golden Hill in San Diego. This volunteer effort of Socalfreenet was so well received and successful that it radiated to a 20 block area and several affordable housing complexes, serving over 1,000 families per month. Socalfreenet leaders formed collaborations to expand its network and have been partnering with community leaders and the MAAC project, a successful housing, advocacy and social service agency in San Diego.
Socalfreenet developed an affordable way to scale the organization to service all 26,000 families that live in San Diego’s 311 affordable housing complexes. Its self-sustaining model will maintain the networks and promote the expansion and growth of community assets. The cost-effective system will use the latest wireless mesh networks that share high-speed Internet access. Socalfreenet will use its resources to execute this model throughout California, the U.S., and internationally.
Objective: Community Impact
Having Internet access at home is the most efficient way for families to obtain financial, educational, housing, social, advocacy, and employment services and resources. Privacy at home enables users to investigate these personal issues at convenient times. And each community has its own needs to address. Access to Internet resources is essential to residents of San Diego affordable housing complexes, a majority of whom are Latino minorities and include working families, immigrants, children, women, seniors, limited English speakers, and the disabled. They must be connected to critical empowerment tools to achieve a level of self sufficiency. For the community, Internet connectivity in community centers empowers students to become technology advocates for their peers and families.
Socalfreenet is partnering with local housing organizations such as MAAC, advocacy groups, private industry, non-profits, high schools, and academic institutions to realize the goal of providing access to ICT. Socalfreenet has proven success in actively engaging local residents. Community participation produces higher adoption and Internet usage, as well as increased efficiency and lower costs. The Socalfreenet model uses ongoing community-based technical support, training, and maintenance. The network has the ability to measure user penetration and adoption, and several other key metrics, and has shown a continued rise in resident use. People need and are empowered by high-speed Internet technology and value this service.