Meraki announced Thursday that it’s working nonprofit OneEconomy to deliver affordable broadband to low-income housing. Using Meraki’s technology, OneEconomy plans to deliver affordable broadband via Wi-Fi to more than 100,000 families in the U.S. (pdf) over the next two years.
David McConnell, senior vice president of access service for OneEconomy, said that Meraki’s technology is cheap and easy to use, reducing the cost of running new cabling by 50 percent.
Meraki’s hardware and management system cost less to buy and operate. In addition a hotspot can be shared by multiple apartments. That allows OneEconomy to charge less while making money; only $5 or $7 per month for internet access per client instead of $20 or $30.
One Economy has used Meraki’s Wi-Fi gear to bring free and low-cost broadband to more than 15,000 low-income people across the United States. For example, One Economy used Meraki devices to bring high-speed Internet access to the Park Boulevard housing development, a public-private partnership established with the Chicago Housing Authority. This effort connected 45 units of low-income housing that are part of a larger mixed income development covering two city blocks.
Since its founding in 2000, One Economy has worked to maximize the potential of technology to help low-income people improve their lives and enter the economic mainstream.
Meraki has built thousands of wireless networks in 125 countries. And it has built a test bed network in San Francisco, where the company is headquartered. About 80 percent of San Francisco’s major neighborhoods have a free Meraki network operating. The company plans to continue building the “Free the Net” network in 2009, deepening coverage in each neighborhood.
Meraki also announced a partnership with the city of San Francisco in September to add wireless coverage to 12 low-income housing projects in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco and other areas. Free Wi-Fi to senior centers throughout the city is also planned.
Unlike other Wi-Fi mesh companies like Fon and Whisher, Meraki is not aiming to build a global free Wi-Fi network. Rather, it’s simply a Wi-Fi hardware company. If you run a mall and want to provide Wi-Fi access to everyone, Meraki’s hotspots and repeaters can do it simply and easily.
In related news, the Wall Street Journal reports that by now most libraries have put in free computer and Wi-Fi service and are now reporting a jump in attendance of as much as 65% over the past year, as newly unemployed people flock to branches to fill out résumés and scan ads for job listings. Even the Multnomah County Library in Portland has installed free WiFi.
Other recession-weary patrons are turning to libraries for cheap entertainment — killing time with the free computers, video rentals and, of course, books. Librarians are turning into job counselors — and even social workers — as they have to deal with a sometimes-desperate new class of patrons.
“Many times a day there is a line of people waiting to get on one of our three computers,” says Mary Wright, director of the Marks-Quitman County Library in Marks, Mississippi. For now, patrons have to line up at a kiosk to make a reservation to use one of the 11 existing terminals.