We have built many networks serving low-income communities. Below we describe one of our earliest projects located in one of the poorest zip codes in San Diego County. Follow the menu links to read about many more in great detail. (Note that the equipment and methods used have changed over time.)
Mercado Barrio Logan
On October 26, 2005, the Mercado wireless Internet officially opened to residents with a training evening, followed by resident installation help from Socalfreenet.org volunteers. An estimated 35 residents spent 2½ hours learning how to safely use the Internet and then took their adapters home to hook up their computers. This was the culmination of many months of effort by both Socalfreenet.org and the MAAC Project.
This project had many pioneering aspects. Among them were:
- Innovative leadership by the MAAC Project, breaking new ground providing residents with cutting edge digital divide services
- A bold vote for community involvement by the MAAC Project in using the fledgling Socalfreenet.org group with a complex technical project
- The cutting edge technical deployment by Socalfreenet.org implemented completely by volunteer labor
Well before the official launch of Mercado wireless Internet, residents had discovered it for themselves. Ten to fifteen computers were active on the network during the months of incremental deployment by Socalfreenet.org’s volunteers. Usage grew at a steady rate as more residents came online in advance of the official training and launch date and then spiked up and continued to climb in subsequent months.
In October of 2006, Socalfreenet.org began an upgrade of the network to eliminate some marginal areas of coverage. True to style, this was done using cutting edge technology, with the implementation of a new mesh network pioneered from MIT research and commercialized by Meraki Networks.
Usage has steadily increased since this upgrade, with 75% more users per day with a total of 40 computers per week using the network recently.
The upgrade also improved online management and tracking. Better online tools allow online visualization of users and current status. For example, the picture at left shows the twenty-five active radios (large balloons) while the smaller balloons show current local users.
Recently Socalfreenet.org began a regular ‘help the residents’ Saturday morning on the first day of each month. Local MAAC Project staff keep a list of people who need help and work together with Socalfreenet.org to resolve any issues and provide training as needed.
This innovative parnership between Socalfreenet.org and the MAAC Project in the Mercado has provided affordable high speed internet access to all residents. The climbing adoption rate shows the value residents are finding and is a tribute to the efforts of everyone involved.