If you managed to catch D.C. Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak's appearance on Kojo the other week, your ears might have perked up at part of the conversation concerning D.C.'s digital divide. After one caller asked whether the D.C. government was working on rolling out larger-scale free public wireless internet, Sivak decided to make public that there's now working Wi-Fi across the National Mall. Apparently it's been up for a couple of months, but hasn't been publicized yet while testing continues.
What Sivak didn't mention is that OCTO is actually in the middle of assisting one D.C. neighborhood with launching a pilot program to provide free Wi-Fi to an entire residential area. More specifically, if all goes according to plan, Bloomingdale residents will soon have free wireless internet access.
There's a lot still to be done before Bloomingdale gets wired up, but OCTO now has project managers working with community leaders to get the necessary hardware in place. It's an idea that's actually been in the works for at least three years, according to ANC 5C04 Commissioner John Salatti.
"There are so many things that can divide a neighborhood: race, age, newer residents versus old-timers," Salatti says. "This was developed here in the neighborhood as a way first and foremost to at least bridge the digital divide in the neighborhood."
Salatti says he's been working on getting this project, which he's dubbed "The Bridge," going since he first started talking about it with fellow ANC commissioner and Big Bear Cafe owner Stu Davenport back in 2007. Then earlier this year, he hooked up with John Capozzi, who brought OCTO to the table.
OCTO spokesperson Rebekah Kenefick says it's difficult to know still when Bloomingdale's free Wi-Fi will launch; they're still working on figuring out exactly where wireless repeaters and antennas will actually go. But the pilot fits squarely in Sivak's wheelhouse. He's described his stance on figuring out how to provide universal high-speed internet access as "practically evangelical," and OCTO has now committed resources to trying Bloomingdale out as the city's first experiment in this arena. D.C. already operates over 200 free hotspots, including one at Eastern Market, but this would be the first residential neighborhood to get one at such a large scale.
Whether other D.C. neighborhoods could follow soon after remains to be seen. Kenefick stressed that the main reason OCTO was able to move forward in Bloomingdale was that it was really the community leaders like Salatti who were making it happen. In order to replicate the initial pilot elsewhere, the city would need to identify a long list of locations where hardware could be installed, many of which would necessarily include private property.