Having free Wi-Fi access is certainly a great luxury, whether you’re a telecommuter or you need to get online while on vacation. To enjoy this, you usually have to head to the local library or coffee shop. But some major cities throughout the nation want to make city-sponsored Wi-Fi access more widespread. In fact, the six cities below are leading the charge in doing exactly that. Downtown Chattanooga Chattanooga Chattanooga already has one of the fastest, publically owned Internet services at 1GB, now they’re ahead of the game again in terms of free public access. NOOGANET, as it’s known, is available throughout government-owned properties around the city and is accessible to anyone with a Wi-Fi capable device. The city first implemented NOOGANET throughout 18 family development centers in the city and they continue to expand it to more public spaces. It’s the model most of cities should probably be striving for at this time. iStock_000068680985_Medium San Francisco San Francisco, one of the leading technological hubs in the U.S., has helped lead the charge by offering free Wi-Fi in 32 public spaces. The city received a $600,000 gift from Google in 2013 that was used to help build the infrastructure and test the networks. Access is available to all residents and visitors in popular areas including Huntington Park, Alamo Square, from Market Street to the Castro and Union Square. The city plans to continue adding on more locations as funds become available. Speeds average roughly 10 to 15 Mbps. If you’re interested in logging on, just look for the #SFWiFi network in your Wi-Fi connections list. Downtown Los Angeles Los Angeles Los Angeles hasn’t quite secured citywide municipal broadband yet, but it’s on its way. In June, the city council voted to start accepting bids for companies willing to provide the service for residents. Officials have identified more than 100 points throughout the city to install fiber hubs. A single hub would reportedly be capable of sending signals to reach 20,000 homes or businesses, so this will have a pretty good reach. NEW YORK, USA – JULY 13: People hurry downtown Manhattan to th New York City There are currently about 8,500,000 people living in New York City, so providing free Wi-Fi access to all of them is a large undertaking. First up, providers are offering hotspots in major parks, like Union Square Park and Bryant Park. Different neighborhoods are working at building out Wi-Fi hotspots, like the Harlem Free Wi-Fi Network, to help locals get online. The most ambitious project is in the works. The city’s LinkNYC will build 10,000 pillars around the city that will send out free Wi-Fi to the people in the surrounding areas. CityBridge, the company contracted to build the hubs, will spend roughly $200 million to set up the pillars in each of the five boroughs in return for ad space. Speeds are expected to reach 1GB, meaning you could theoretically download a two-hour video in under 30 seconds. In addition to providing free Wi-Fi access to residents, the project is expected to generate more than $500 million in revenue and create 150 jobs. Chicago skyline aerial view at dusk Chicago Chicago is trying out several different ways to bring free Wi-Fi to the area, including turning people’s homes into hotspots. While this didn’t really take off, the city did install Wireless Internet Zones in the 80 public libraries and two of its biggest public recreation areas, Daley Plaza and Millennium Park. If a Chicagoan is looking to access free Wi-Fi and isn’t near one of these areas, they can check out free Wi-Fi hotspot devices for up to three weeks at a time. This program was made possible thanks to a $400,000 grant and is helping people get online to apply for jobs, do remote work, or study for school. Rosslyn skyscrapers Washington DC - United States Washington, D.C. The nation’s capital has more than 600 hotspots for residents to access free Wi-Fi. All public libraries offer this service and you can utilize it at most city parks and on the National Mall. Having the free Wi-Fi has even helped people digitally communicate during the Presidential Inauguration. To see where the closest one is to wherever you are in D.C., you can use the official D.C. Free Wi-Fi map or access information about these hotspots on the mobile app. In July, 105 cities throughout the country declared they intend to provide high speed Internet access within the next few years, even if they have to build the infrastructures themselves. You can check if your city is on the list and, if not, petition your local officials to get on board. In the meantime, enter your zip code below to find the best connection available in your area. [zipfinder] On July 15, President Obama announced a new program called ConnectHome, which is designed to make broadband access more affordable to low-income American households. A partnership between the federal government, numerous municipal governments, and several large Internet Service Providers (ISPs), ConnectHome is expected to bring broadband access to 275,000 households in 28 communities in 20 states and the District of Columbia. According to a White House press release, half of households in the bottom 20 percent of household income currently lack Internet access. A Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) study released in conjunction with the ConnectHome announcement claims that income plays an even bigger factor than geography in determining families’ access to high-speed Internet. Although the program’s goal is to help all members of low-income families, it specifically mentions students as those who can benefit from broadband access. The 275,000 eligible households include 200,000 children for whom the homework gap presents an obstacle to learning and future success. Which cities are included? The Department of Housing and Urban Development used local commitment to improvement and “place-based programs” as factors in selecting the communities that will participate in ConnectHome. These communities are: Arkansas: Little Rock California: Fresno and Los Angeles Colorado: Denver Connecticut: Meriden Florida: Tampa Georgia: Albany, Atlanta, and Macon Illinois: Rockford Louisiana: Baton Rouge and New Orleans Maryland: Baltimore Massachusetts: Boston and Springfield Missouri: Kansas City New Jersey: Camden New York: New York City North Carolina: Durham Ohio: Cleveland Oklahoma: Choctaw Nation Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Tennessee: Memphis and Nashville Texas: San Antonio Washington: Seattle Washington, D.C. Which ISPs are participating? Eight different ISPs have agreed to be involved in ConnectHome, offering service to low-income areas. These include CenturyLink, Cox Communications, Google Fiber, Sprint, and Cherokee Communications, Pine Telephone, Suddenlink Communications, and Vyve Broadband. The last four will provide service to the Choctaw reservation in Oklahoma. Each ISP will service those areas in which it has existing broadband network resources: CenturyLink already offers fiber service in Seattle, as Google does in four cities in the ConnectHome program. In some cases, service will be free and, in others, it will cost $9.95 or $14.95 per month. Would you like to use your lifeline? ConnectHome won’t stand alone, and other government programs can offer assistance to those for which paying even $14.95 a month might be difficult. Remember that in June, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to expand the Lifeline subsidy program to cover broadband access. Eligible families may now receive a $9.25-per-month subsidy for broadband access, which could make getting online nearly free for many families. Eligible families with school-aged children will be able to access Sprint’s wireless network through the ConnectED program. Access Meets Learning Although Internet access is perhaps the most important feature of the new program, it’s not the only one. A number of non-profit and for-profit entities including the American Library Association, Best Buy, College Board, GitHub, the James M. Cox Foundation, and PBS will provide various digital literacy opportunities for eligible households so that those families who gain access to the Internet also gain the knowledge they need to use it to their advantage. Only the Beginning The White House-cited CEA study makes it clear that ConnectHome in and of itself won’t be enough to close the digital divide. Though there’s currently no available timeframe for implementation of initial ConnectHome access, the program will expand to serve more households in new communities. President Obama has announced his desire to expand high-speed Internet access to every American household, having called broadband “a necessity” rather than a luxury. Photo Credit: Diego Camblaso/Flikr
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