Submitted by Norm Roulet on Wed, 01/03/2007 - 02:32.
Building blocks for bridging digital divide in East Cleveland
In a recent article on bridging the digital divide in NEO, "It seems time to open up the OneCleveland network vision of Cleveland Heights, to see if there is value for others", I mentioned "An example of a progressive community building a mesh broadband network environment is found in Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network (CUWiN), which is a world- leader in such grass-roots broadband community service and technology. That is a model we are exploring in trying to help residents of underserved communities of East Cleveland and Cleveland secure access to broadband services, as carriers have underserved their neighborhoods, and poverty there is a significant issue."
Well, I was pleased to start the first work-day of 2007 with the correspondence posted below, from the Executive Director of CUWiN - globally celebrated community computing expert Sascha Meinrath - who is helping us center in on a viable model for East Cleveland and other undersupported urban neighborhoods in the region to bridge the digital divide here. Read on, as we are clearly on the right track and farther along than anyone may imagine. I'll add related insight and next steps as they develop.
Thanks for writing -- some thoughts & comment(arie)s below.
Norm Roulet wrote:
> Dear Sascha,
> I'm very excited by your work with developing open source mesh network
> technology, bringing wireless connectivity to Urbana's residents, and your
> other projects. I'd like to see if you can help address a related challenge
> in the Cleveland-area of Ohio.
> For several years, I've been advising the CIO of the City of East Cleveland
> on upgrading their municipal information technology and expanding municipal
> access to the Internet. This is one of the poorest cities in Ohio, and very
> underserved by traditional broadband carriers (limited DSL and no
> cable). It
> has a population of about 20,000, with 11,000 residential structures, all
> within a less than 2 square mile area, immediately adjacent to University
> Circle, where the major cultural and education assets of the region are
> located, including Case University. Needless to say, the poverty of this
> community with so little, next to a community of such plenty, is a
> and there is broad support for addressing social equity issues there, like
> the digital divide, but little true outside commitment and funding.
This situation seems all too prevalent in US society. Though we often hear
folks talking about the growing wealth divide, the geo-spacial aspects of this
are often ignored. So many universities have a wealth of resources that they
simply refuse to share with their local communities, which is really a travesty
since the universities would directly benefit from stronger local social networks.
> We secured funding from the Cleveland Foundation for the city to install a
> 10 MBPS microwave link from City Hall to a POP at Case, linking to their
> non-profit OneCleveland fiber network to the Internet, and we can increase
> the bandwidth of that connection. We also installed 40 MBPS point to point
> microwave connections between City Hall and the six other municipal
> buildings in East Cleveland, creating a MAN. We also negotiated free access
> to the Internet for the city from OneCleveland for the coming year, after
> which time it will cost $1,000/month. The city owns the hardware of this
> installation, which cost about $50,000.
> We have developed for the city a Drupal CMS website, at
> http://eastcleveland.org, <http://eastcleveland.org/> and plan to upgrade
> that in the near future.
I think that's great you've gone with an open source CMS -- a lot of the client
work I do with the Acorn Active Media Foundation uses Drupal -- it's a great
tool (in fact, I use it for my own blog as well).
> We have also begun a program of collecting donated computers from area
> businesses and loading them with Ubuntu and Open Office and giving them to
> high school students and senior citizens, and can secure additional
> computers and funding to expand that, and provide some training and
> The objective is to provide a free used computer running open source to
> every household in the city in need, and develop a robust open source
> computer training and lab program with the schools and community centers
That's a brilliant program -- this is the sort of innovation we need more of
from municipal officials and allied organizations.
> But few homes in the city have high speed access to the Internet, in some
> cases due to poverty and in other cases because it is not available in
> neighborhood, or the residents don't have a computer, technical ability or
> cultural acclimation. Whatever the reason, we want to bridge all these
> The critical next step is to devise a way to provide universal access for
> all residents of the city. It is preferred to make that available by WiFi,
> for free, and I am prepared to pursue grant money for that. But, it must be
> low cost and rapid to deploy, and a sustainability strategy must be
> The city will be the champion and sponsor of the initiative and be fully
> supportive - it may be able to allocate some funds and resources along the
> way. The CIO will personally support all efforts in every way possible -
> this is the highest priority for him. This is also a top priority for the
> Mayor, who has just been in office one year and is smart, computer savvy
> very progressive... he was the first mayor to bring litigation over lead
> poisoning to Ohio (East Cleveland has the highest lead poisoning level in
> Ohio). This initiative will also be championed by their excellent Community
> Development Director, and we have the support of the City Council, and the
> public schools, and leadership of Cuyahoga County, where East Cleveland is
> located. A successful deployment for East Cleveland can scale to other
> of the county - they are looking for solutions for other neighborhoods.
> My thought is it would best be to deploy a wireless community network using
> your technology to develop a mesh, with donated computers and inexpensive
> rooftop antennas - your lowest cost strategy.
Yes, this should definitely be doable.
> It is not clear to me if that can be deployed by meshing existing and new
> DSL access points of residents who have and agree to share their broadband,
> or if we should tap into the municipal MAN, or if we should/may combine the
You can do either/or or both options (CUWiN's technologies will bridge to
whatever is plugged into the network -- think of it as the glue that binds
> Also, I thought it may be possible to use something like wifiDOG to
> incorporate a contained portal with the mesh, if that is possible.
Not only is this possible, but it's been something that I've been pursuing with
WiFiDog developers for two years. It would be extremely easy to fully integrate
WiFiDog and CUWiN.
> There are very few IT people in this region experienced at all with open
> source and none I know of are well suited to deploy such a mesh network - I
> can get the grunt work done but don't see it as easy to staff up a
> development and software team.
> Do you provide such strategic implementation support?
Yes, we do exactly this sort of strategic implementation support. In fact,
everything you have mentioned is already on our development agenda -- we're
simply looking for ways to fund the functionality additions. This sounds like
it might be a great opportunity to get East Cleveland a system tailored to your
exact needs and forward several key additions to CUWiN's software (it's always
exciting when things line up so well).
> This is a brief introduction to the situation for you to determine if this
> fits with your mission so you may direct me to the right contact there.
> Please let me know your thoughts.
I've cc-ed Ross Musselman, CUWiN's Outreach Coordinator, his portfolio also
includes helping coordinate our collaborations with new partners. This
definitely sounds like a win-win situation and like something that fits CUWiN's
mission very well. Let us know what the next steps would be.
> Thanks you for your attention and great and innovative work. I look forward
> to hearing back from you soon.
> Best regards,
> Norm Roulet
> norm [dot] roulet [at] gmail [dot] com
Executive Director * Principal * President
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