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The Cathedral of Learning has some additional duties this year. Not only will Cathy, as the University’s signature tower is often affectionately called, serve as a welcoming beacon to incoming students, but the icon will be at the center of beaming high-speed internet into homes throughout several underserved communities within her view.
Last fall, the roof of the Cathedral became home to an array of antennas for Every1online, a pilot program spearheaded by non-profit Meta Mesh Wireless Communities that aims to provide free Wi-Fi to area families in need. Pitt has played a key role in making the program a reality by not only providing a perch for broadcasting equipment on the Cathedral, but also at a University facility on Thomas Boulevard in Pittsburgh’s East End, as well as installing required network infrastructure at both facilities.
Coraopolis home installation marks major milestone
In early August, the Meta Mesh team visited Bridgid Frye’s home in Coraopolis to install a receiver antenna and other equipment for its first customer. Frye, who grew up in the borough about 15 miles west of campus, has two high schoolers at home. Her family struggled with slow internet during the pandemic, but her children now have a reliable connection for accessing resources to complete their schoolwork.
“We’re so excited to be a part of this. This could do so much for our community,” Frye said. “Ours is a small town where most of us know each other from way back, so we all look out for each other. I’m excited to see how this resource can make a difference in Coraopolis.”
Cornell School District, which serves about 675 students in Coraopolis, will sponsor monthly service costs during the first year for 25 households in the district that have signed up.
Coming soon to New Kensington, Homewood — and beyond
With a starting capacity of up to 450 customers, Every1online is poised to help hundreds of families with school-age children in three Pittsburgh-area communities.
“We are really happy with how things are going in Coraopolis right now,” said Sam Garfinkel, Meta Mesh’s interim executive director. “I feel extreme pride in the fact that we’ve now fully proved the technical feasibility of our model and validated our non-profit approach to providing internet service.”
Meta Mesh is now focused on expanding outreach to enroll participants from Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood, as well as the New Kensington-Arnold School District in Westmoreland County over the next few months. Interested families in those communities are encouraged to apply.
We’re thrilled with what Meta Mesh has been able to accomplish,” said Pitt vice chancellor and chief information officer Mark D. Henderson, who represents the University on the Meta Mesh board of directors. “This pilot demonstrates what we’re doing in Western Pennsylvania is a cost-effective method which can be scaled and replicated throughout the region and beyond.”
At a national level, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is working its way through Congress and includes a $65 billion broadband proposal to “connect every American to reliable high-speed internet.” Included in this bill is the Digital Equity Act, which allocates $2.75 billion over the next 5 years to provide digital skills training and education to low-income populations, improve online accessibility of social services for individuals with disabilities and empower rural communities to measure and address their own broadband needs.
“This bill has potential to do wonders for underserved communities in Pittsburgh, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and communities across the country,” Henderson added. “With access to proper funding, I see great potential for Meta Mesh, the University and our partners in positioning Pennsylvania as a national model for digital equality.”
Once more families sign up in pilot neighborhoods, Pitt and Meta Mesh’s goal is to expand to more locations, as well as collaborate with other school districts and funding partners.
In addition to Pitt, Meta Mesh partnered with Carnegie Mellon University, the Keystone Initiative for Network-based Research (KINBER), the Richard King Mellon Foundation and The Heinz Endowments to bring this program to life. Funding was also provided by the Bernita Buncher Educational Advancement Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation, Burrell-New Kensington Rotary Club, Hopper-Dean Family Fund, the William Christopher and Mary Laughlin Robinson Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation, and the Roslyn Kaplan & Family Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation.
— Brady Lutsko and Mary Rose O’Donnell